It can't be easy working for the Ministry of Social Development. As the ministry says on its own website, the work is challenging with high risks, and high public expectations - but apparently those who work there are passionate about it.
You'd have to be passionate about the job given you wouldn't be doing it for the money – as with most service jobs, social workers are paid abysmally – a case worker providing holistic support and wraparound care for complex, high-needs clients will earn the grand sum of $55,821. Gross. Gross indeed.
So a difficult job, I grant you. But that doesn't let the ministry off the hook. When taxpayers are forking out $1 million a day to keep people in motels around the country – many of these people the complex, high-needs clients of MSD – they can surely expect the ministry will be good governors of their money. But they're not.
Earlier this year, there was a story from Newsroom that showed some South Auckland landlords and a couple of dodgy real estate agents were leasing uninhabitable homes to MSD for up to $3000 a week. And when they started running out of run-down hovels and mouldy garages, they got the real estate agents to come up with vacant properties – allegedly without the consent of the people who owned them.
Venal, vile, unscrupulous behaviour on the part of the landlords and real estate agents absolutely – but a simple check on the condition of the homes from an MSD staffer or contractor would have exposed the rort.
And rort it was – MSD conceded that their paying well beyond the market rate meant they exacerbated the rental shortages as landlords booted out their current tenants so they could leap on board the MSD gravy train.
Now, in the past week, it's been revealed that MSD has been paying out thousands of dollars to moteliers for the damage caused to the units by MSD clients. How much? Nobody knows. Not one single person has a clue.
When National's Nicola Willis asked for that information, the MSD's general manager of housing refused to supply the information as costs for damages are recorded on individual email records or case files and to add up the grants would require staff to manually review thousands of individual emails and file notes.
The housing manager felt the greater public interest would be served in the effective and efficient administration of the public service. How she could utter those words with a straight face is beyond me.
Surely effective and efficient administration means you know how much money is going out of your department. If you don't, as a texter to my show pointed out, you leave yourself open to corruption. Even if you haven't heard of an Excel spreadsheet, you could write it on the back of an envelope and add up the sums at the end of each day and put them into a central database.
The Minister for MSD, Carmel Sepuloni, fronted on my radio show and said she wasn't overly concerned because there is an expectation the money will be paid back by clients who are responsible for the damage.
So how much has been paid back? She had no idea and again, trotted out the "our staff are too busy and important doing god's work to bother with trifling matters like money" line. Not in so many words, but you get the picture. She also cited a clunky accounting system that was in the process of being transformed but it was very early days.
Sorry but that's not good enough. Every single dollar that the ministry spends is money that somebody else has earned. Government departments might be able to shake the Wellington money tree every time they want to spend, but the rest of us have to get up early, go to work on weekends or public holidays, or come up with a bright idea for a widget that we can sell to people.
There's a contract between the Government and taxpayers – they demand we pay tax; we expect they will be scrupulous in the husbanding of our money. When it comes to the MSD, they're not and as such they are in breach of their contract.
• Kerre McIvor Mornings, Newstalk ZB, 9am-noon, weekdays.