A genuine 'sorry' would go a long way for those stuck without pay

Has anyone - absolutely anyone at all - actually apologised for the Novopay debacle?

If they've made a full, unreserved apology, I haven't come across it. If anyone - Hekia Parata, Craig Foss, Education Ministry mandarins et al, or even, and especially, Talent2, the makers of Novopay itself - has stated more than the bleeding obvious: that the inability to pay teachers and support staff properly for several months, depriving them of $12 million over Christmas, was "unacceptable", I haven't seen it.

When Steven Joyce is wheeled out as the most compassionate voice on the issue, you know you have a compassion deficit going on. The whole thing assumes an air of all care and no responsibility. It is little wonder those affected are so affronted (not to mention impoverished).

I have often wondered why, when there is a hue and cry over some ridiculous executive golden handshake or other corporate or political misdeed, it seems so hard for those at the centre to offer just a few empathetic words. (Or, in the case of handshakes, pay some of that filthy lucre back, or even just donate some of it to charity.) Heartfelt or not, the right words go a long way. Even the "non-apology apology" will sometimes suffice: "If waiting for 95 minutes on the phone to talk to someone about payroll issues has elevated your blood pressure beyond what is reasonable and normal, please accept our deep regret."


Granted I am not a media minder, but my advice to the ministers and Ministry officials would have gone something like this: come back early from summer holidays, sit down with school staff (even if it is just for the cameras) and suffer through the chaos as those in the sector are doing. Leak a recording of yourself calling Talent2 and demanding they stop requiring schools to chase up staff who have been overpaid - or relax the requirement for anyone involved to have to front up with multiple pieces of ID to prove who they are in order to get their outstanding wages. In short, appear to give a damn.

Admittedly, few of the officials still around signed the original $30 million contract with Talent2 back in 2008 - Labour can cop it in the chook for that decision, as well as many others where perfectly good public service providers were turfed in the illusory quest to save money - but the current lot sat by as Talent2 failed to meet multiple deadlines. Outside parties, presumably paid handsomely, failed to do proper due diligence. And finally, ministers overlooked 147 software bugs and 6000 errors detected three months before the system finally went live.

Bad enough for sure, but it was compounded by all of them scuttling for cover when the proverbial hit the fan. Are they not familiar with crisis management 101? American PR and crisis management guru Brian Ellis says there are three key messages for every crisis: "We have a plan to deal with ..."; "We immediately began our own investigation to make sure that we ..." and a (probably atheistic variation on this one) "our hearts and prayers go out to ..."

Well they've sort of got a plan now - potentially bringing back the previous providers of payroll systems. They have a ministerial inquiry into what went wrong.

But it doesn't seem much like their hearts or prayers have gone out to anything beyond saving their own backsides in this mess.

* Illustration by Anna Crichton: illustrator@annacrichton.com