On October 17, 2020, I had no doubt that I had done the right thing when I cast my vote for Jacinda Ardern and the Labour party. I was not alone in my belief that this was the best thing for the country as we faced down a pandemic that had begun that year with the death of a 61-year-old man in a Chinese city I had never heard of called Wuhan.
Ardern and Labour won in a landslide.
At the time I took enormous pride in the fact that the three top roles in New Zealand, Prime Minister, Governor-General and Chief Justice, were held by women, and that we were led by a Prime Minister who made us the envy of the world.
We were a team of five million and we cared for each other.
I also believed that this Government would live up its promise that it would be the most transparent government we had ever had.
Covid was unlike anything we had ever faced, at least in my lifetime, and I could understand that, for a while at least, some of the promises that had been made around child poverty, mental health, spiralling house prices and the widening gap between rich and poor, might take a little longer to address but, for now at least, we continued to lead the world in our response to this global pandemic.
Today the jury is well and truly out on all of those promises as the impact of a single focused strategy of "saving lives" became the mantra that all decisions were based on.
That strategy made sense at the beginning of this pandemic but as we headed into 2021 bathed in the glow of being arguably the safest country in the world, I had imagined that, behind the scenes, the Government would be expanding its focus to "saving lives and livelihoods". The two were inextricably linked if we were going to return our focus to those other pressing issues that were facing the country. Child poverty, mental health, spiralling house prices and the widening gap between rich and poor.
That expectation was completely dashed when the inevitable happened in August 2021 and, as had been predicted for months, the virus escaped from an MIQ facility in the middle of our most populated city.
It appeared, at least from the outside, that the Government had not taken any advantage of the extraordinary opportunity we had created with our united approach to the first lockdown.
The level 4 lockdown that was imposed on the country, within 12 hours of the latest community case being identified, was exactly the same as the lockdown we had navigated as the team of five million a year and a half earlier. It was as though we had learned nothing from the initial sacrifices we had all willingly made back then.
One of those lessons was the inevitable truth that eliminating Covid from our shores would be impossible. We needed to start planning for that reality in a way that could both protect the lives of our people, and their jobs – their livelihoods.
It wasn't as though there weren't ways we could have done that but, as I began exploring those options in an effort to understand how businesses might be able to work alongside the government to do things differently, I realised that there had been a cost for that landslide victory back in 2020.
The promise of transparency had gone.
I should have seen it earlier. The decision to shut down the multi-party advisory group that could ask questions around decisions being made by Cabinet. The failure to take advice from the Independent Advisory Group headed by Sir Brian Roche to set up a stand-alone agency to take over from the Ministry of Health to manage our response to the pandemic. And, arguably the most subtle shift of them all, the power handed to unelected officials in the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet (DPMC) to manage all the messaging coming out of the Government. A role which also appears to include the blocking of information being sought by those looking for answers.
The first crack in that door appeared this week when the Herald's senior political reporter, Thomas Coughlan, negotiated his way through the Official Information Act to confirm what many of us have known for some time. The Government had danced on the head of a pin when it denied that it had requisitioned supplies of rapid antigen tests that had been ordered by private businesses.
Requisition, consolidate, prioritise – whatever word the DPMC chose to describe their actions the reality is that the only reason the Government was in this position was that they had banned RATs for almost two years and, just as had happened when they failed to open a letter from Pfizer for six weeks, they found themselves at the wrong end of the supply chain when they finally acknowledged that RATs had a role to play in our Covid strategy.
The dates of emails finally released by the MoH are interesting. On January 14th they reveal that "… the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet were getting restless about the status of tests ordered by the Government."
Quite separately, on January 13 I had been sent an email from a lawyer representing a company that had offered to provide FDA approved RATs at up to 50 per cent less than the Government's current providers with a guaranteed delivery of 1 million every 10 days with orders of up to 50 million able to be delivered within six weeks.
The reason the lawyer had contacted me was that no one from the Government had responded to the offer!
On January 20 I managed to put the lawyer in touch with director general of health Dr Ashley Bloomfield, who said he had never seen the offer. Like many other offers of help, this one too appears to have disappeared into the bureaucratic ether.
On January 21 the Government placed an order for five million. A week later they added another 20 million. Three days later they added 40 million. That's 65 million in under two weeks with nothing required from the Government agencies other than to sign off on the order. The 65 million RATs were delivered on time and on budget, along with a further 1.8 million RATs that were placed for a number of those private companies whose orders had been 'requisitioned, consolidated, prioritised' by the government.
Naively I thought that this demonstration of how businesses could help the Government accelerate our Covid response would finally open the door to a much closer co-operation between the Government and businesses whose advice and offers had been ignored in the past.
I should have known better. The announcement of this change in the government supply of RATs carried no mention of the 65 million that had been organised by a lawyer, acting on behalf of a business whose original offer had been ignored, while continuing to do his day job.
No, the MoH had this all under control and this was proof of how well they had planned the supply of RATs and any suggestion that they needed to requisition supplies from private businesses were obviously untrue.
The emails released last week under the OIA highlight how the spin coming out of the DPMC has very little to do with transparency and more to do with covering some of the gaping holes in a strategy of "thanks for your offer, but we know best."
The time must surely be approaching for a Royal Commission of Inquiry to examine exactly what has gone on behind the doors that have been held tightly shut by the DPMC.
Perhaps the Government did know best and we don't have all the facts.
Surely being fully transparent is the best way to determine that.
• Sir Ian Taylor is the founder and managing director of Animation Research.