After an Election

Voting by Cle0patra
“Voting” by Cle0patra (Flickr)

Saturday was our General Election in New Zealand, and I personally found it quite exciting that so many people got out to vote — a record number of us voted early! — and that the results are quite close.

Under an MMP system (Mixed-Member Proportional for those of you not in the know) in New Zealand, several parties are elected, ranging in number from 1 member to the maximum of 120 members, and this election delivered a doozy.

Our two major parties — National (conservative) and Labour (liberal) — ended up with no clear majority. In Labour’s case, they would have to do a deal with the Greens (also liberal) to be close to National’s numbers at this point in time.

Neither group — National by itself, or a Labour-Greens coalition — can probably govern alone because they have too few seats to have a majority. In our Parliament, a party usually needs 61 out of the 120 seats to have a majority to govern.

So there are options, interestingly enough, and one party — New Zealand First, led by Winston Peters — holds the king- or queen-maker position. They can go with National, or they can go with Labour-Greens, to form our next Government.

I personally find that really exciting because there are options out there.
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Voting

The New Zealand 2017 General Election officially falls on Saturday, 23 September 2017, but early voting is already taking place. Noel and I decided to vote early this election cycle as the polling station in Northwood is no longer around — it was really nice to be able to walk down and vote — and it was one less thing to do on a precious Saturday.

When I was a senior in high school, there was a big movement to register younger voters and encourage them to vote. MTV even had “Rock the Vote” going during that time. I vividly remember Jamie Royal coming to my classroom (Sociology, I think), and she registered me to vote in the hallway across from my locker. I was so nervous and scared and excited at the same time.
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“These Are Not the Emotions You’re Looking For…”

Depression

Okay, so got a cheeky Star Wars reference into yet another post about my depersonalization and depression; score one for me.

Seriously, though, yesterday was a very difficult day for me.  It honestly didn’t start out that way.  I woke up early as I had an appointment with the sleep specialist to check on how my CPAP machine was going.  It went very well, and it made me very happy, which made my mood quite bright and cheerful.

On to our second chore while we were out: work.  I needed to swap over the back-up drives (which I’d forgotten to do last Friday) and also some work on allocating student loans to the appropriate Public Trust accounts.  The second part really didn’t need to be done yesterday, but because I was at work, I thought it would be easier to get everything done in one fell swoop, so I could spend the time during this school holidays actually relaxing without much work at all instead of working every day, a little here, a lot there, and forgoing the whole reason of having a break like I normally do.  One of the things I am learning in counselling is I need to step-back and have some “me” time a lot more often than I have been over the past 20 years or so.

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Don’t Worry; The Taxpayer Has Deep Pockets!

This week, with the second anniversary of the devastating 22 February 2011 Christchurch earthquake approaching, I’ll be blogging about several issues relevant to our situation here in Christchurch and natural disasters in general.

I have never been the biggest fan of bureaucracy.  Personally, I feel the definition of a bureaucrat is a person with far too few skills and little common sense who is paid way too much to sit behind a desk all day and try to be as obstructive and obtuse as he or she possibly can be.  (This does not define 100% of all public servants but a good chunk of them.)

The Canterbury and Christchurch earthquakes have pretty much shattered any last little vestige of faith in bureaucracy and Government agencies in general that may have been cowering in some little dark corner of my mind.  Okay.  I admit that I do understand sometimes why it is in place: to protect us against those who would otherwise try to take advantage of Joe Public.  My understanding extends to bureaucracy attempting to stomp out dodgy traders and people, and setting up hurdles to stop people out from getting a quick buck from hurting people like your little old sweet Nana.  But sometimes the bureaucrats go a little (or maybe a lot) power crazy and stomp on the good people too.  They frustrate good people who have the best intentions or can even bring inspiration, wealth, knowledge and creativity to the community and, overall, hurt the economy and public rather than protect them at the expense of stopping the small minority of bad guys.

Read Don’t Worry; The Taxpayer has Deep Pockets

Bureaucracy is Bad (Part 47): The Sequel

The Tertiary Education Commission
The Tertiary Education Commission – one of the most inept government agencies in New Zealand history

I have some follow-up information to add to my blog a few days ago “Bureaucracy is Bad (Part 47)“.

As you may recall, I received an email from the Tertiary Education Commission (TEC) late on 23 November 2012 with regards to a data cleansing exercise they were doing on their data warehouse.  They were going through their records to find out which components they felt were not science-based, and they were seeking input from Tertiary Education Organisations (TEOs).  The Excel spreadsheet they sent me had 2 components we offer out of 34 science-based components.  I asked them why there were only 2 components on the spreadsheet and not all of them.

To my surprise, I received a reply back within a week (turnaround time is obviously improving…), but it has not improved my opinion of TEC in the slightest.

TEC responded that they were only putting components that might not be science-based (or they believed were not science-based) in the spreadsheet, which is why there were only 2 listed.

Their official response was:

We have 34 science classifications listed on our site. The two classifications we sent you were identified an anomaly,  as the name of the course did not appear to relate to science. The data cleanse is to ensure all the Science classifications are correct.

What we want to know is do they fall under the science classification and if  they don’t then what classification do they fall under.

The problem with this scenario is this:  Both of the components are the same (but for different intakes) and they are both entitled, “Anatomy and Physiology for Manicurists”.  It seems pretty straight forward.  This component will teach manicurists and nail technicians the anatomy and physiology they need to know.

The same spreadsheet has another workbook on it called “Science Classifications”.  It basically lists all the subject areas TEC considers science-based.  And, you probably guessed it, number 2 on the list is… “Anatomy”!

What is frustrating me is this is a total waste of taxpayer money, TEC’s time, and my time.

All I could think to write back was…

I’m not sure how they can be “anomalies” considering their title starts with “Anatomy…” and, according to the list of science-based courses listed on the “Science Classifications” tab, the second field down is “Anatomy”…

Has anyone really thought any of this through?

Obviously not?

Your tax dollars hard at work, people.

Bureaucracy is Bad (Part 47)

Bureaucracy.  It’s almost as horrible a word as that vile phrase, red tape.  Actually, I’m not sure which one is worse.  Perhaps they’re twins.  Inefficient twins.  Inefficient twins who aren’t exactly that bright, make tons of errors themselves, but love to point out the minor and very occasional error you make yourself.

If you have read any of my previous blogs, you’ll know I’m not a big fan of the Tertiary Education Commission (TEC) (see “Just Give Me the Bloody Address!” for exhibit A).  As a matter of fact, I don’t know if you would find many fans of theirs; TEC tends to be a fairly strange child of three merged (failing and inefficient) government entities, and it acts as if the DNA wasn’t quite ever right.  One of our suppliers whose product helps us produce our thrice yearly data report to TEC is constantly doing battle with an organisation which can be described as dysfunctional at best.

(I do have to interject here and give credit where credit is due.  There is a senior manager at TEC by the name of Stephen who has been extremely helpful to us this year.  I am sure there are others there who are just as helpful, but, as an organisation itself, it is extremely dysfunctional.)

I could go on and on about the various problems I have had with TEC, but I will highlight a few cases we have faced this year.

Ben Linus Has Transported NaSA to Auckland (And Not Told Us)
We received a report from TEC to say that our provider was located in Auckland.  I wrote them back to tell them we are, and always have been, in Christchurch.  They had the gall to tell me that I must’ve changed it.

Newsflash number 1:  I can’t change that information on their database.  When I sign in, it’s a non-editable area.

Newsflash number 2: The non-editable area clearly says Christchurch.

Newsflash number 3: Given the history of my previous interaction with their computer system (which interfaces with the Ministry of Education and New Zealand Qualifications Authority), and with the Ministry of Education consistently and constantly praising me on how “clean” and accurate my data submissions are, I extremely highly doubt I’d list the school in the wrong region on the wrong island even if I could edit the information in the first place.

Mind Meld with TEC like Spock with a Horta to Get an Answer
Late last year, I made a mistake with the aforementioned thrice-a-year return.  (No, the world didn’t end.  It almost did, but it didn’t.  Obviously.) After a year of quakes and rebuilding the school and all the drama and stress everyone had been under, I think I’m allowed to make a mistake.  It was a simple one; I forgot to mark a small group of students who resat their final examinations and passed as “successfully completed” instead of “unsuccessfully completed” in the database.  I fixed the error.  I admit I made a boo-boo.

Somehow, this all didn’t quite make it into the annual completion reports that TEC judges our funding eligibility for the following year on.  We were above the threshold for funding anyway, but TEC informed us our data should be as accurate as possible (fair enough) and the final data extraction would happen in a month or so.  I wrote to them with the simple questions: “Do you have to reset something on the return database for me to make a new return? Can I upload a new return to be processed?”  A fairly simple question.

It took weeks to get an answer from TEC, and it basically read: “We don’t know.  Ask Ministry of Education.”

I wrote to Ministry of Education.  They wrote back that (sorry), it was a TEC matter.  They could confirm that no reset was needed, although TEC should have known that.

Back to TEC: “Can I resubmit this data?”  The answer should be a simple “Yes” or “No”.

A few more weeks go by.  The deadline approaches.  I keep trying to get an answer.

15 minutes before the cut-off time on the date a change needed to be in by, I get a response: “Yes, you can resubmit the data… as long as you do it within the next 15 minutes.”

I was at a medical appointment I had been waiting for 6 weeks for when the email came crawling in.  By the time I got the email, it was 20 minutes too late and I was at home.

Taking 4+ weeks to answer a simple yes or no question?  Not acceptable.

Yeah but No but Yeah but No but Yeah like Vicki Pollard
Last Friday, after I had left work, and email rolled in from TEC.  I read it this morning.  Basically, they’re doing a data cleanse of their data warehouse.  They wanted to know which of our components were science-based; an Excel spreadsheet, pulled from their records, was attached.  TEC marked whether or not they thought the component was science-based, with a second spreadsheet listing subjects that were science-based (in their opinion).

I open the spreadsheet to find only 2 science components listed.  After logging in to the TEC site I mentioned before (with the unchangeable city / region in it), I look up science-based components we should have: 34.

The 2 they have bothered to include on the spreadsheet have titles starting with “Anatomy and Physiology…”, but TEC have marked that they do not believe these are science-based components.  Flip to the second spreadsheet with examples of what science-based components are, and, probably the third entry down is — you guessed it — Anatomy.

Despite pretty much all tertiary educational organisations being smack-dab in final examination season, the due date to check all this information is… Wednesday.  We’re given a whole 3 days to check over what could be screeds of information for some TEOs because, hey, we’ve got nothing better to do like, oh, examine students or get them their final results, or maybe even give them their diplomas.  Why bother making sure the customers’ needs are met in a timely manner when we have endless bureaucratic returns to fill out instead?

I wrote to them today to point out the missing information, the mismatched information, and the disgustingly short-notice deadline.  According to the server, they read the message; whether or not I get a reply before the year has finished might be another story altogether.