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The Good, The Bad and The Ugly

Posted by Gary Emery | Answering your questions | Apr 10, 2013
Do we always look for, and find, bad things when we audit?

The Good, The Bad and The UglyThe Good, The Bad and The Ugly. What a great film title. It was a 1966 Spaghetti Western (Italian-made films about the American west, set in the later half of the 19th century). The plot revolves around three gunslingers competing to find a fortune in buried Confederate gold amid the violent chaos of gunfights, hangings, American Civil War battles, and prison camps.

Just the thing as winter approaches to kick back on a rainy Saturday afternoon, rent this DVD, and relax with a cold beer. Well, it’s my idea of a couple of hours well spent, anyway.

So what does this have to do with performance audit?

Well, like a cheesy DJ on a local radio station, it’s a crude link to a question I often hear as a performance auditor:

  • What do we find when we undertake performance audits?
  • And is it always bad?

In short, the answer is no - it’s a real mixture.

Often, the stories we read in the papers or on news websites are all about public entities doing badly. We hear a lot of doom and gloom around public sector cuts, and how this project or that initiative has not worked. Our evening news is full of it. But actually, the public sector in New Zealand does a lot of good things, and these good things tend to get less coverage.

An example of this is our report into New Zealand’s Blood Service (NZBS). We looked at how they were managing the safety and supply of blood products. To cut a long story short – they do it well. Don’t take this kind of stuff for granted. If you are involved in an accident or need an operation that involves a transfusion, then this could literally mean life or death for you.

You can sleep easy in the knowledge that NZBS deals with donations safely, checks for diseases with donated blood, and stores and transports blood products really well. They also use stock control (blood has a limited shelf life) and storage effectively to make sure that blood products are located where they are needed. Very little donated blood is thrown away.

New Zealand Qualifications Authority: Assuring the consistency and quality of internal assessment for NCEA is another audit where we found that NZQA are effective in ensuring the consistency of internal assessments for NCEA for our children. They work well with schools to help ensure the quality and consistency of internal assessments set by teachers. This is hugely important in ensuring the qualifications gained at one school are the same level as those gained in another.

There have been some good initiatives shown in our report on realising benefits from six public sector technology projects. These included:

  • The police’s 111 text deaf service ensuring the deaf community can better access police services.
  • Customs processing air passengers more quickly between New Zealand and Australia using SmartGate electronic passport control.
  • New Zealand Transport Agency ensuring real-time traffic information gets to the public by making it available through private companies.

The report focuses on how technology was used to deliver good outcomes, and again it highlights some of the things the public sector is doing well.

Even when we are reporting on poorer performance by public entities, there is usually something positive that we report on, and we certainly give the positive things we find the exposure they deserve.

I can, therefore, say that there are lots of things the public service does well and we have the evidence to back it up. We do report the good and the bad. I’m not quite so sure we report on what’s ugly!

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