Jacinda Ardern has issued an invitation to businesspeople to put up ideas on the post-Covid-19 business environment to drive New Zealand's economic recovery.
Problem is, the experience to date illustrates the fact that Ardern and her advisers have not responded at the speed businesspeople are used to. Nor have they leveraged the goodwill and energy that businesspeople are prepared to invest to get some momentum going.
This is painfully obvious by examining senior businessman Rob Fyfe's experience as "business liaison" through the heat of the Covid-19 crisis.
Yesterday, Ardern told the last session of Vision Week — a virtual summit organised by Infrastructure New Zealand — that her door was open.
"Keep telling us what you think we should be doing," Ardern told the virtual summit. "And let us know when we are getting decisions right, or getting them wrong."
She says her promise is: "We are listening. We will continue to do so, and we will take action on the basis of what we hear."
But some very senior New Zealand businesspeople — including those who once staffed her former Prime Minister's Business Advisory Council — have put up strategies and game plans aplenty in recent weeks — to no avail.
All the top players in business who have freely devoted their time to strategise and assist the Government through the Covid-19 crisis have wanted more than simply to be heard.
There comes a point where a Prime Minister could usefully adopt a "servant leadership" approach.
In Ardern's case it is about stepping back and inviting business leaders to take a more prominent and action-oriented leadership role as New Zealand embarks on its economic recovery.
The problem is that the Prime Minister has effectively cold-shouldered top businessman Rob Fyfe, who worked without pay for eight weeks as business liaison at the peak of the Covid-19 crisis.
On May 18, Fyfe wrote to Ardern, letting her know that after eight weeks embedded in the Wellington Covid-19 operations command centre, he proposed to return to his Auckland home.
Fyfe confirmed to the Weekend Herald that three weeks on, the Prime Minister has yet to acknowledge his letter.
Nor has Ardern thanked him for the leadership he and his private sector team brought to organising vital personal protection equipment for frontline health staff, ventilators and a world-class contact tracing app to cover clear inadequacies within the New Zealand health system.
"It was surprising," was Fyfe's comment.
He has clearly been frustrated by the opacity of the Wellington bureaucracy and saw that his ability to add value was diminishing as Government officials returned to work during alert level 2.
Irrespective of what at this stage appears to be a prime ministerial cold shoulder, Fyfe says his offer remains to continue to assist Ardern with the challenges that Covid-19 will create for years to come.
He had earlier written to Ardern in mid-April, congratulating her on the success of her leadership and noting the importance of building an effective Covid-19 early detection and rapid response system so New Zealand could operate successfully in a global environment where the coronavirus might not be constrained for four or five years.
A project team from Fyfe's Private Sector Group, led by businessman Sam Morgan, has developed a Bluetooth-enabled CovidCard to enhance digital contact tracing so New Zealand can open its borders earlier with a higher degree of certainty that any incidental migration of the coronavirus into this country can be quickly stamped out.
Fyfe remains concerned that the current government Covid-19 system — which is reliant on either signing into business places or scanning QR codes — is not up to the job.
The project team put a paper up to Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet boss Brook Barrington on June 5. This has since been conveyed to Ardern and Finance Minister Grant Robertson.
Fyfe remains extremely concerned that the significant competitive advantage New Zealand has achieved through tackling the virus will be squandered if further steps are not taken.
He told the Weekend Herald he has recommended five priorities: the need for New Zealand to adopt new social norms — including distancing; an intelligent virus-free border; daily health check-ins to drive detection at the earliest sign of symptoms; a high speed and high accuracy testing system for the Covid-19 virus; and a system for instant tracing and rapid isolation of close contacts of those affected.
He has recommended to Ardern that the Government invest in and retain a central operational leadership unit with accountability to drive delivery of all elements of this early detection and rapid response system, with clearly defined, agreed and measurable performance.
Fyfe's letter was copied to Finance Minister Robertson, with whom he says he had a "very good interaction" during his sojourn in Wellington.
Fyfe, in an earlier interview with the Herald, warned business to make plans to work for some time in a global Covid-19 environment.
Fyfe retains his goodwill towards the PM. As does Fraser Whineray, the outgoing chairman of her PM's Business Advisory Council.
But that goodwill needs to be nurtured by the PM. Get that right and the goodwill will endure for months to come.
A spokesperson said the Prime Minister "has publicly acknowledged and thanked him".