Police: cosying up to tyrants, ignoring NZ law

I’ve already written about the slow and painful efforts to get Police to reveal details of the visiting professorship they had allowed one of their senior officers to take up at the PRC People’s Public Security University (the university of the Ministry of Public Security).

The day after the belated Police response finally arrived, a reader sent me a link to another example of the New Zealand Police cosying up to the regime in Beijing.  Here was the whole of my initial post:

A reader sent me the link, and this is what Google Translate generates:

Guangzhou Municipal Public Security Bureau and New Zealand Oakland Police Department signed a friendly cooperation arrangement
Source: Guangzhou Municipal People’s Government Foreign Affairs Office published:2019-05-05 17:51

guang 1.png

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To celebrate the 30th anniversary of the conclusion of the international friendship city relationship between Guangzhou and Auckland, and to strengthen the police cooperation between the two cities, Yang Jianghua, deputy mayor of Guangzhou and director of the Municipal Public Security Bureau, and the assistant police chief of the Auckland City Police Department of New Zealand on April 29 Lena Hassan ( Naila Hassan ) signed a “friendship and cooperation with the Guangzhou Public Security Bureau Auckland, New Zealand Police to arrange the book” in the Guangzhou Municipal Public Security Bureau. It is reported that this is the first time that the Guangzhou police and foreign police have signed a cooperation intention, which indicates that the law enforcement agencies of the two places will formally cooperate in police exchanges and police training.

“Police exchanges” with the Guangzhou branch of the Ministry of Public Security………..  Surely this cannot mean that MPS officers will be let loose with law enforcement powers in New Zealand?  Surely…..

I looked on the Auckland police website, I looked at the Minister of Police’s website, and I looked at the main Police news releases page, and there was nothing about this deal.

I wonder if Police, or their Minister, were ever planning on telling New Zealand citizens and voters about their deal with the PRC domestic repression apparatus?

Yesterday, I mentioned the Gestapo, but one doesn’t need to invoke (quite valid) Nazi comparisons with the People’s Republic of China.   Would Police – or elected governments – have thought such friendship and exchange deals were appropriate with the domestic security forces of the Soviet Union, or Pinochet’s Chile, with Galtieri’s Argentina, with apartheid South Africa, or……or…..or……

It just should not be.  And it clearly isn’t the case that this is just normal stuff (“everyone does it”) –  it is the PRC side that stresses that this is the first such arrangement for Guangzhou.

I’m not fond of the phrase “social licence”, but if it must be used this is an example of how government agencies –  allegedly working for our interests –  risk forfeiting theirs.

I will be lodging an OIA requesting details of this agreement.

And so I did, on 8 May.   I asked Police for

1. Text (in English and – if it exists – Chinese) of the recent agreement signed between the Guangzhou bureau of public security and the Auckland police district.  

Copies of

2. Any advice re the agreement to the Minister (and/or his office)

3. Any consultation with other government agencies on it.

4. Any internal position papers evaluating the possibility of this agreement, including any risks, and pros and cons.

And I had an acknowledgement of my request the next day.  So far, so proper.

I heard nothing more for a couple of weeks and then I had this from Police in Auckland.

Good Morning  

We have received your request for information

Before we can process this request we require some form of photo ID.  The best is a photo of your driver’s licence and a photo of you holding your licence.

Now, I’ve been using the Official Information Act for years and had never had such a request.  In fact, Police has responsed to my earlier OIA just a few days previously (very slowly but) without asking for photo ID.  Apparently, agencies are allowed to check that someone is entitled to make a request, but Police by then had my address, my phone number, and I’m in the telephone book (and readily Google-able).

Anyway, I went back to them and asked them for the statutory basis for their request, noting that Police had responded to earlier requests without photo ID.  I heard nothing more.

A few days later (27 May), I had a letter from a Senior Sergeant in Auckland, extending my request by a couple of weeks (beyond the statutory 20 working days), to 18 June.  He claimed they needed the additional time because of the “consultation we need to do on your request”.  That extension was probably lawful (albeit only because it looks as though it had taken almost 20 (calendar) days for anyone Police to really look at the substance of the request).

And then on 20 June, I had another letter for Senior Sergeant Housley (who is the Auckland District Police OIA co-ordinator), this time extending the request to 18 July, citing the need for “further consultation”.      That argument was already wearing thin, but what really bothered me was that it is against the law to extend OIA requests if the extension is made after the statutory 20 working days has passed.  The Ombudsman has been quite explicitly clear on that.

Nothing in the OIA prevents multiple extensions being made, providing any extensions are made within the original 20 working day time period after receiving the request. For example, if an agency notifies the requester of a one week extension, and then later realises that a two week extension is actually necessary, a second extension may be notified as long as the original 20 working day time period has not yet passed.

In this case, not only had the 20 working days passed when the second extension was made but so had the deadline on the first extension.  I went back to Senior Sergeant Housley and pointed out that his extension was unlawful, but (unsurprisingly) I got no response.

This morning, I finally had a letter from Senior Sergeant Housley substantively responding to my request, politely thanking me for my “patience”.   And what little they released –  and, in fact, what little they held, gives the lie to the claim that “consultations” and “further consultations” were necessary.   All they released was the text of the agreement (see below), the substance of which the PRC side had been boasting of two months ago, and all they withheld was advice from MFAT on the wording of the agreement (which can’t have been very long, and which I never expected them to release –  standard OIA exceptions: my interest had been mostly in seeing who, if anyone, had been consulted.   I have now lodged a complaint with the Ombudsman about (a) the unlawful second extension, and (b) the dubious claims about “consultation” and (especially) “further consultation”.  But this is the Police…….in a well-functioning system, you’d hope a Police force would fall over itself to act lawfully, spirit and letter.  Then again, I guess this is modern New Zealand, where complying with the law seems like an optional extra for too many public agencies.

What of the substance?  Here is the agreement itself (Chinese and English), and Mr Housley’s letter.

Letter of Friendship Between Auckland Police and Guangzhou

Letter Mr Reddell July 2019

There are a few things of note in the (short) agreement itself (and any Chinese-speaking readers might like to check that the Chinese version says the same as the English version, both of which are signed).

First, it is pretty clear that the initiative for this must have come from the PRC side.   The first version of the agreement is in Chinese, and the English version is clearly a not-particularly-colloquial version/translation (“Based on joint benefits and laws in both countries, the two participants accept to exchange…” is clearly not something written by a native English speaker).

It is pretty easy to see what is in it for the PRC.  They have whole webs of organisations and agreeements designed to tie people, institutions, and countries more closely to their odious regime, lending a (hitherto) good name to one that should be held in very low esteem.  And New Zealand has clearly been a soft touch, and so (recall the initial release) the Auckland Police will have made a good place to start for a first such agreeement.

But what on earth is in it for New Zealanders?   Police officers hot-footed it to Guangzhou –  presumably at taxpayers’ expense –  to do the kowtow and sign up to an agreement that dignifies the repressive law enforcements mechanisms of the PRC as somehow akin to a Police force in a (hitherto) free, open and democratic society.  To what end, other than the typically craven approach of the New Zealand “establishment” –  more deals, more party donations, improved electoral prospects for Phil Goff?

Second, the substance, such as it is

guangzhou

It is a simple question really that Police make no attempt to answer: what benefits will the New Zealand Police –  supposedly responsible, via ministers, to the New Zealand public gain from their cooperation and exchanges with Guangzhou, a force that acts to enforce the will of the CCP (and where presumably no officer can serve if they are suspected at all of sympathies with –  say –  Christianity, Islam, Falun Gong, let alone the rule of law and democracy).  This force operates just over the border from Hong Kong, where civil liberties have already been jeopardised, aided and abetted by the Police.  Won’t all the senior officials the Auckland Police delegation were pandering to likely be CCP members?

And what of the letter I got from Police?

Among the things I found interesting is that there was no advice at all of this agreement to the offices of the Minister of Police or the Minister of Foreign Affairs.  I suppose most likely Police simply anticipated the preferences of our politicians –  after all, last week Ron Mark was signing up to a defence agreement with the PRC (quite extraordinary: we sign a defence agreement with a country that openly talks of seizing a free and democratic country by force).

Perhaps more worrying –  but perhaps not surprising, given the widespread Wellington view of Police competence and capability –  is that I was told there was no position paper or similar reviewing pros and cons, risks and opportunities etc that an agreement with the odious PRC forces might entail.   So what happened?  Did Guangzhou Police simply take someone in Auckland to lunch and sweet talk them into flying over to sign up?  It can’t quite have been that bad surely, but this simply isn’t proper or prudent policymaking.

But then they made up a rationale on the fly.  Recall that none of this was documented before the agreement was signed, it was simply in a letter to me dated today.

There is no formal ‘position paper’ in existence evaluating the possibility or the ‘pros and cons’ of the Letter. However the Police position is that 2019 will mark the 30th anniversary of the sister city relationship between Guangzhou and Auckland – Auckland’s longest standing and most successful sub-national partnership in China.

This relationship has been significantly strengthened as a result of the Tripartite Economic Alliance that was signed in 2014 between Auckland, Guangzhou and Los Angeles. The relationship between the cities goes back to the time of the gold rush in New Zealand, when many Chinese came across to New Zealand with a significant number finally settling in Auckland. Latest statistics indicating that up to one in three greater Aucklanders are likely to identify as Asian by 2038. Close transport connections (twice daily direct flights between the cities), the immense trade and significant crime connections make the relationship between Guangzhou and Auckland crucial to both cities. Other areas Police would benefit from this relationship include, training, narcotics and economic crime investigations.

In summary this is an extension to the sister city relationship. With the proposed growth in the Asian population in Tamaki Makaurau over the next two decades this letter of friendship will enhance the relationship and benefit both Guangzhou Public Security Bureau and Tamaki Makaurau Police as it will present opportunities for each of us to learn from our colleagues.

Much of which is simply weird.   We have a national Police force, not (unlike, say, the UK system) a city-based one.  What is the national Police force doing signing up agreeements with odious foreign forces to support the sister-city partnership signed up by some elected local body politicians?   Recall, that the current Auckland mayor substantially funded his last campaign with large anonymous “donations” including from an auction of works of Xi Jinping.  Goff was one of those who nominated the CCP-aligned Yikun Zhang for a royal honour, for what amounted in effect to services to Beijing.   This agreement has the feel of something that the Mayor’s office will have liked.  Perhaps it will help with this year’s fundraising?

And what about all that puffery about the Gold Rush?  We had German immigrants back to the 19th century and it didn’t make the first Labour government any keener on dealing with the Gestapo.   Perhaps the Senior Sergeant and his bosses didn’t notice that whatever the “Asian” share of the population 20 years hence, “Asia” is not the same as the PRC, not even all immigrant ethnic Chinese come from the PRC, and many who did come want to be free of the clutches and mindset of the PRC.  The PRC –  not China, but the PRC/CCP –  is a threat more than an opportunity, at least to anyone with a modicum of integrity and morality.

And, once again, what does the Auckland wing of the New Zealand Police think they are going to learn about policing from their friends in Guangzhou?  Whatever it is, seems unlikely to be in the best interests of New Zealanders.

There is a level at which it is tempting to just ignore these things.  Individually, I don’t suppose the agreement means very much.   Bad as Police are in many respects, they aren’t quite yet the Guangzhou bureau of public security, and this agreement is isolation won’t change that much.  But it all speaks of a mindset in which our establishment agencies and individuals seem to have lost any real sense of right and wrong, of fundamental decency, and recognising odious regimes when they see them.   Yes, there need to be basic, formally correct, relations with the PRC, as with a bunch of other dreadful regimes, but we simply shouldn’t be signing friendship agreements, declaring ourselves “strategic partners”, of offering to help make their dreadful regime even more effective in what it seeks to do.  Do our leaders –  politicians and Police – really live by any values other than deals, donations, and the bonhomie (and self-delusion) that goes with cosying up to such a regime?  Not on the evidence of agreements like this.

Oh, and the Official Information Act really does apply to Police to.  Our Police –  unlike China’s – are supposed to be subject to the law, not subject to the Party.

 

Failing statistics

I’ve had a series of points about New Zealand official statistics running round in my head and the list finally got long enough I thought I’d turn it into a post.

Most prominently, of course, there is the 2018 Census debacle.  Almost 16 months on there is still no data published, as the SNZ efforts to compensate for their own systematic failures by trying to fill in the gaps go on.   We still have to wait another two months before we begin to see some results at last.    Consistent with the deeply attenuated nature of public sector accountability in New Zealand, no one has resigned, no one has been sacked.  No one has even offered a genuine and heartfelt apology.  It should be simply remarkable that the Government Statistician, Liz McPherson is still in her job.  Instead, when the nature of the debacle was already apparent, McPherson was reappointed to a second term.   If she knew there were going to be problems –  eg underfunding – she had a moral obligation to have made that clear and to have considered resigning and going public if the issues weren’t dealt with.  If she didn’t know, she shouldn’t be in the job anyway.

There doesn’t seem to have been a parliamentary inquiry into what went wrong, and we still haven’t even had the report from the reviewers that McPherson herself appointed to review how her organisation has handled things (due to SNZ this month, although who knows when we  –  the public  – will see it).   One wonders if the reviewers will note SNZ’s apparent greater focus on various right-on political causes than on doing the basics well.  Probably not –  it isn’t the way to get future review-type appointments.

(Here I will largely skip over questions about whether it is really appropriate for the coercive powers of the state to compel us all to tell the state whether we are able to wash or dress ourselves.  I am seriously contemplating a rare act of civil disobedience at the next census, simply refusing to answer such grossly intrusive questions.)

But, having mentioned the SNZ priority on trendy causes, there is the Indicators Aotearoa New Zealand project I wrote about here.   Dozens and dozens of indicators about New Zealand (reminder to SNZ “New Zealand” is the name of the country), some perfectly sensible and already published, and others strange, vacuous, almost impossible to measure meaningfully (in one or two cases all three).   You might recall this extract from the table

indicators

where, for example, only Maori “spiritual health” (whatever it is) seemed to matter.  Or where if descendants of Croatian immigrants don’t speak Serbo-Croat that is somehow a problem for New Zealand, the New Zealand government, or (indeed) those individuals.  Or where our statistics thinks a ‘strong sense of belonging and connection’ to New Zealand is something they should measure.  I was born here, most of my great-grandparents were born here, and I don’t need Ms McPherson to try to tell me whether or not I’m a proper New Zealander –  even though being “a New Zealander” is not, and never will be, my primary “identity”.

Eric Crampton captures some of the lunacy of it all in a recent tweet

A couple of weeks ago a reader drew my attention to an International Monetary Fund graphic about which countries were meeting which international statistical standards (collection, publication etc).   Here is the summary chart

SDDS.png

drawn from this page.    The two most advanced standards are SDDS (Special Data Dissemination Standard) and SDDS Plus.    There are some lower level standards (the two shades of green) and then there are the countries outside the standards altogether.  Eyeballing the map, that would be (of independent countries) Cuba, North Korea, Turkmenistan, South Sudan, Somali, and…….New Zealand.   You can read all about SDDS here –  76 countries have signed up to it since 1996.

I have some history on this issue.  When SDDS was first launched, in the internal bureaucratic discussions on such matters I never regarded New Zealand signing up as a priority, and said as much.  At the time, from memory, it was mostly for advanced countries, and we were  (a) small, (b) having no trouble attracting international buyers for New Zealand dollar securities, and (c) these were still the days in the immediate wake of our far-reaching reforms.  Why would we need to sign up to such international agency bids for relevance (might have been the gist of my sentiment). At the time, from memory, I probably still adhered to the official RB view of “who wants a monthly CPI; there are more important priorities”.  In those days, we could not subscribe to the standard because, unlike most OECD countries, we had neither a monthly CPI nor a monthly industrial production series.  We still don’t (I’m not sure if the entry rules have changed though).    Both represent fairly significant gaps, and more recently (perhaps five years ago) even the Reserve Bank came round to the view that a monthly CPI would be desirable.

At one level, our continued failure to meet the requirements for these international standards doesn’t matter very much.  No one supposes we are, say, Zambia or Tajikistan.  Our statistics are honest, even if there are significant gaps.  We still don’t have problem selling New Zealand dollar securities.    But when –  as they do –  governments and officials parrot on about “rules-based orders”, the importance of international standards, it does look at least a little embarrassing not to be part of these, not very onerous, international standards.  And economic analysts would actually use data like a CPI or an industrial production series.

And then, of course, there are other weaknesses in this area. Our quarterly national accounts numbers –  which themselves have material gaps (no quarterly income measure of GDP) –  are released more slowly than those of almost any OECD country (and, of course, are still subject to significant revisions even then).

Talking of the IMF and statistics, another reader pointed out to me recently that New Zealand seems to have been reduced to accepting technical assistance from the IMF on some aspects of our financial statistics.   Not a big issue in its own right perhaps, but I was a bit surprised nonetheless –  technical assistance (foreign aid) from the IMF has usually been something for underdeveloped and emerging countries –  especially as I knew the Bank had had a temporary secondee from the IMF a few years ago, who seemed to do a lot of work on these specific areas.  Just seems symptomatic of the not-overly-job New Zealand is doing these days around official statistics.  I guess decades of poor productivity growth really does show up in choices –  whether about cancer treatments, and things nearer to public goods such as official statistics.

My final statistics gripe for the day relates to the immigration statistics. You will recall that last year SNZ, together with Customs, MBIE, the government, and no doubt under pressure from airlines/airports etc, got rid of departure cards.  With them went one of the key short-term economic indicators (PLT migration numbers) analysts have used for decades to track short-term economic developments.  Not only is migration more important here (larger, as share of population) than in most advanced countries, but there are big cyclical fluctuations in migration (of the sort not seen in most advanced countries), largely because of the relatively free access New Zealanders have to Australia.

SNZ led the official chorus trying to tell us that the new world would be better for everyone.  It was never going to be, and I pointed this out in several posts before the final decision was made.  Sure, using passport data to work out whether or not people actually stayed (or left) long-term would produce better long-term indications of actual movements, but only with a very long lag, and in the meantime we would lose all useful short-term information on the movements of New Zealanders.  Their model estimates for the short-term were always going to have such large margins of error –  perhaps especially around turning points –  that any signal was going to be very hard to discern from the noise.  SNZ tried to tell is it wasn’t so, and when the new data starting coming out a few months ago, they continued to release prominent monthly commentaries, emphasising the signal.  And they did the same thing in each successive month even as the inevitable substantial revisions threw the numbers around.

But they seem to have finally realised that there is a problem.  On Thursday evening, I received a consultative document from SNZ inviting comment on “options for release of international migration data”.  It is a rushed affair –  they want comments within a week, much faster than normal official consultations.  I couldn’t see the document on their website but there was no indication they wanted it kept confidential either.

As I have noted to SNZ in my response, there is little sign (still) in the document that they recognise the importance of immigration changes in the short-term economic developments in New Zealand (the official who sent out the document is a demographer and the main interest seems to be in the needs of fellow demographers).

Anyway, they are now toying with dropping monthly data altogether, with releasing data only quarterly (even if there was monthly data in each release), and with dropping high frequency commentary on the net migration numbers (the latter is a move I would support –  SNZ commentary to date has fed an inappropriate reliance on highly questionable numbers).     Fortunately, they do note that they are not looking at options such as only releasing data with a six months plus lag (when the revisions have started to settle down), or release data only annually –  good of them, but extraordinary that such options even get a mention, in a country where migration data makes such a difference (including in the political debate), and where good and timely data should have a priority.

(For what it is worth, I have gone back to them urging them to keep monthly data, released monthly, with a short lag, but released straight onto the website without commentary.  The data may be poor –  and that is SNZ’s responsibility –  but there is no good reason for them to sit on data which could be made available, for analysts to make of it what they can, even recognising that the signal to noise ratio is very low.)

I could go on –  there is, after all, the breathless enthusiasm for the IDI, with little apparent thought about where such tools might lead – but won’t today.

The bottom line looks like a mix of problems.  There probably has been underspending on official statistics over the years (public goods have few vested interests to champion them), as well as some misplaced priorities (whether coming from ministers or officials). which in turn encourages a champing at the bit for apparently smarter, apparently cheaper, alternatives –  be it the Census or the migration data or whatever.  But before thinking about throwing more money at the problems, there needs to be some real accountability –  the Government Statistician in particular, but also successive Ministers of Statistics.  If we are going to do government well, two aspects of that should be serious accountability –  if you stuff up badly at the top, and especially if there is no contrition –  you should lose you job –  and doing official statistics excellently.   New Zealand is failing on both counts (and, of course, the failure on accountability runs much more broadly than SNZ),