Posts in category: Government
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Letters from the Southern Man
Migrating is more than just filling in forms and submitting paperwork, its a complex process that will test even the most resilient of people.
Understanding New Zealand is paramount to your immigration survival and to give you a realistic view of the country, its people and how we see the world, read our weekly Southern Man blogs. Often humorous, sometimes challenging, but always food for thought.
It’s a hoary old cliché but seems to be absolutely true. I am seeing it every day on my latest tour of duty through Asia and Africa.
No wonder we are all so wary and tired of political leaders in so many parts of the world. A few minutes ago, I watched Hillary Clinton explain to the people she wants to vote for her that she sees nothing wrong with being paid US650,000.00 for a one hour speech or accepting millions of dollars from Wall Street interests. Apparently when she is Madam President she ‘will take on and take down’ these interests she said. Oh really Hillary? Really?
While I was in Malaysia last week the Swiss Government revealed publically (so they clearly feel they are on firm ground) that investigations were underway into the possible disappearance of up to US$4 billion from accounts linked to a Malaysian national development fund and that country’s Prime Minister.
Funnily enough this coincided almost perfectly with his Government’s ‘independent’ findings that exonerated him 24 hours earlier of any wrong doing in respect of a mysterious gift of around US$600 million that had arrived in his bank account (or accounts linked to him) some months ago. Despite links to the same national development fund he apparently did not know anything about. In an amazing piece of timing just before the Swiss announced their probe, the PM apparently returned most of the ‘gift’ to the anonymous benefactor (keeping a paltry US$60 million odd. I mean, what’s US$60 million among friends?).
It turned out the Saudi Royals were the kind folk who just happened to make a sitting Prime Minister of an apparent democracy a gift they never told him about and of which he asked no questions.
Call me naive or stupid but who wouldn’t notice what we mere mortals might consider more than a paltry sum appearing in a bank account they control? I do have some sympathy for the PM; I confess am not much good with matters financial myself, but I do think my wife who looks after our family finances might have asked me one night over a quiet dinner “Honey, I just noticed that US$600 million appeared in one of your bank accounts last night. Any idea of where it might have come from?”
“Oh, I don’t know dear, maybe it was a gift from a fan, I am not sure. How’s your Laksa?”
Or here in South Africa where having refused to take any responsibility for gaining personally from the millions of taxpayer dollars spent on upgrading his personal residence, the President announced this week (at 10.15pm when as we all know, we’re all reading the newspaper) he’d like to offer a ‘solution’ by way of a partial payback on the tax payers money spent on his personal palace. With caveats of course…
The timing of this climb down is also interesting; next week the Constitutional Court of South Africa is being asked to rule on all sorts of stuff I won’t bore anyone with here, but which goes to the heart of whether the President and his Government can thumb its collective nose at the findings of the Independent Public Protector. It was this office that found the President had personally benefited and the public should rightly be reimbursed.
Over the past couple of years the Government and President have thrown any number of senior Ministers and Public Servants on the pyre of public opinion in a pretty lame attempt to deflect any responsibility for this outrage away from the country’s leader and with straight faces and hilarious videos defended the President’s flash new pad with its ‘security features’.
This included vicious attacks on the office and person of the Public Prosecutor.
You can certainly fool a lot of the (voting) people a lot of the time but you really can’t fool them all all of the time. So sometimes a ‘fire pool’ is exposed for what it really is. Among other things this is how the money spent on what to you and me looked like a regular old swimming pool was passed off as a vital piece of safety equipment – a place to get water from when a wing of the palace went up in flames. I have a swimming pool and I guess if my house in Auckland was on fire and the hoses weren’t working or the Fire Brigade were busy fighting fires elsewhere, I could dip buckets of water in the pool and hurl them upon the blaze…but actually? It’s a swimming pool.
And what of the chicken coop? Where does that stand in national security matters? I am all for protecting the head of state. But with chickens? Do they breed ‘em tougher here in South Africa or something?
“Oh my God, the palace is under attack – release the chickens!”
Can’t you just picture the armed insurgents running screaming for the hills…?
“Call off the attack – they have released the chickens!”
I guess the only conclusion is someone has whispered in the President’s ear “You are going to lose this one Mr President and you are making us all look like a bunch of dicks. You put up a good fight and you are a brave Zulu and yes the people and critics are all wrong and yes of course the people love you for it and yes it did cost a lot of loyal people their reputations and careers, but I am not sure we are going to win this one”.
So a week before the Constitutional Court is asked to remind the President that in effect he is not above the law, the offer is tabled for a sort of maybe let’s have a chat about me paying the people back some of the millions spent on the palace.
To which I might ask given he doesn’t earn that much as President ‘And where are you going to get the money to do that Mr President?’
And so it goes on. The rand has crashed, the economy is tanking, international investors are fleeing, interest rates have been put up to try and support the currency, unemployment is rising, social unrest is growing, the people are getting poorer, infrastructure is starting to collapse and the saddest thing of all is the ones who can get out (my clients) are not the ones who keep voting for this political party. People with skills and money can vote with their feet. And are – we had almost 2000 people register an interest for our seminar in Johannesburg on 15 February. We have had to put on two extra seminars to cope with the panic. (You can register here for one of the additional seminars in Johannesburg on the 16th of February.)
It is no different in Malaysia. The ones who keep allowing themselves to be persuaded to vote for those who seem to think laws are made for everyone else are not the ones who will be on those planes heading for New Zealand, Australia and beyond.
While New Zealand and Australia benefit I do feel a certain sadness in it all. The best and the brightest who in many cases can help to change and better these societies are the ones most in demand elsewhere.
I guess while there are politicians that see themselves as being above the very laws they help to write my country will continue to benefit for a long time to come. A country I should add where our politicians are not above making decisions I’d suggest might arguably not always be in the best interests of the country but where they are at least smart enough and have enough integrity to know where to draw the line and that never includes lining their own pockets.
Until next week
The Southern Man
The New Zealand Government announced this week over $4 billion of additional spending on completing roads (freeways) of national significance and bringing forward funding for the City Rail Loop for Auckland.
Interesting in its timing.
Aucklanders have waited over 100 years to get a truly modern and integrated rail system. We have one, but it is only in the past decade that it has become ‘double tracked’ to enhance passenger service offerings. Unfortunately the rail line ends at a brick wall in the downtown Rail Station. This has led to capacity constraints as the trains that come in have to go out the same way.
Advocates, including our Mayor, have been pushing central Government for years to contribute funding to what is known as the City Rail Loop so rather than a brick wall at the end of the line in downtown Auckland we tunnel our way out to the suburbs (forming a ‘loop’).
The Government has dragged its heels for years over funding it but have now pulled forward their contribution to this national good.
At the same time, it has announced funding for the final pieces in the puzzle of the already extensive Auckland motorway network.
In the past decade or so Aucklanders and central Government have poured billions into completing our road and freeway network as traffic volumes have grown exponentially. Cars are by international standards very cheap in New Zealand so everyone has them. There has also been little alternative historically by way of public transport.
That has partly been caused by numbers. Auckland might have 1.6 million people but they are spread out over a huge area. This low density has made public transport very expensive to operationally fund.
I am not particularly in favour of more roads but given most freight moves around the city and country on the back of trucks I see it as a way of making business more affordable, productive and efficient. Although, I have to say, I avoid peak hour car travel if I can because of the virtual gridlock which occurs. It might not be Sydney, Melbourne, Jakarta (God forbid) or Singapore but it is real and it does cost time and time is still money.
So why now?
Part of me thinks it is political pressure. Auckland is now very powerful politically and remains the engine room of the economy whether those out in the regions like it or not. Over a third of all New Zealanders live there. Its population is growing at some 50,000 people a year. It is starting to groan under the pressure.
We need more infrastructure including houses and Government is looking to free up some of its land holdings for ‘affordable’ and other housing developments across the region as the largest land owner. Public transport is growing rapidly and is already relatively good, reliable and frequent and more and more cycle ways have been added throughout the city in an increasingly connected network.
I can’t help wondering though if the Government isn’t also using it to stimulate the economy.
Economists have just upgraded growth projections for this year to 2.5% which continues our steady if not spectacular growth story. With international markets shaky, our two largest trading partners (China and Australia) not looking so good and demand from there falling, dairy prices low and inflation in New Zealand non-existent (in fact we had deflation apparently in Q4 2015 –largely I suspect owing to the collapse in the oil price) it is not beyond the realms that the Government is simply stimulating demand. Two birds, one stone.
A lot of the growth we have had in recent times has come off the back of strong inward migration (consumption) and Government spending. Our Government is very prudent and would not splurge if they did not think we could afford it but I can’t help thinking they see increased risk of rocky times ahead for our exporters and businesses who rely on our international markets to buy what we produce.
If that is the reason it is reason enough.
The Reserve Bank Governor confirmed this week he is as likely to cut interest rates again as he is not.
That is keeping the value of our dollar lower than it would otherwise be and gives him greater chance of keeping inflation in the 1-3% band he is expected to (but can’t – it has been less than 1% now for a long time).
The Governor’s action against property speculators in Auckland appears to have contained the Auckland property market which is a good thing for all of us –including those of us that live in Auckland.
What we get as Aucklanders out of all this is a lot of construction work (good for those migrants involved in construction of course) and a more liveable city where public transport pays for itself.
These decisions, especially around the rail system means that the Auckland’s Council’s plan to intensify housing at transport and rail nodes can now continue and offer greater certainty to developers and buyers.
Rather than trains running ever y twenty minutes because of bottlenecks in downtown Auckland they can run at peak times every three –five minutes like civilised cities.
It is all coming together nicely. For too long we have not had the population or the density to make public transport really efficient in Auckland. Increasingly we do.
In the post Paris Climate Change talks we have to do something about our emissions and getting cars off the road is part of that story.
It’s all a step in a pretty positive direction.
Auckland will become even more liveable if that is possible - it is already ranked in the top ten in the world.
Until next week
Iain MacLeod, Southern Man
Increasingly many of our clients moving to New Zealand as skilled migrants are under 30 years of age and many have either put off starting families till they can get somewhere ‘safe’ or are secure in an environment more conducive to raising children in a healthier physical environment. Some already have very young children when they arrive.
Given most young people are not financially well off and both partners need to work when they arrive in New Zealand in order to put food on the table, it raises the question – what do they do with their children if they are both out working?
An important question given many young migrants lack any local social network – while increasingly some have families in New Zealand, they too lead busy lives. This historically meant either both working and making financial provision for the children or one partner not working and accepting the lifestyle and financial compromises that comes with such a decision.
When my first son was born 22 years ago we made the decision that my wife would stop working (actually she did but that’s another story). That meant we took about a 50% cut in income. Like most in our late twenties and early thirties we had a mortgage and babies can be quite a drain in more ways than one. We managed financially on what really was a quite modest income at a time (about $55,000 in today’s money I think).
I had also decided to go out on my own and establish my first Consultancy about the same time with nothing but holiday pay ($5000) from my previous employment behind me. In many countries I’d never have been able to make that choice but in New Zealand I could.
In hindsight it worked surprisingly easily. That was in large part because in New Zealand families matter, family is the central focus of virtually everything we try and do as a society and we ensure that structures and support are in place to try and relieve the pressure.
New Zealand is a Socialist Democracy and while Bernie Sanders (US Democratic Party potential Presidential nominee) seems to have trouble explaining what that means to Americans, I don’t.
It simply means that we give a damn about one another and we make sure that everyone has equal access to opportunity (as best as we can). We have achieved this ‘access to opportunity for all irrespective of background’ by socialising risk in health, education and social security.
New Zealanders to a very large extent are happy to enter into a social contract with the State whereby we do the work and generate the funds and they provide the amenities and structures to minimise inequality and create opportunity.
A good example in health provision is that all children aged 13 and under now get to visit their Doctor at no charge to the parents. No medical insurance required. No strings attached. This service is not means tested, it applies equally to all. Our (relatively modest) taxes fund it. It also happens to save the tax payers money because rather than waiting till the illness escalates and children wind up in hospital which is free whereas Doctors visits weren’t, much is ‘nipped in the bud’ for a small investment in the primary health sector and the local General Practitioner. Someone should tell this to the Americans…..
I went and filled a prescription last week for three months’ supply of cholesterol medication. It cost me NZ$5 (US$3.80 or ZAR45). That’s no typo but shows what bulk (Government) buying power can do when it comes to dealing with big Pharmaceutical companies – they get an exclusive 3 year contract to supply the drug to the Government and we (health consumers) get it at rock bottom prices. Listen up America, Bernie has a point on this.
Day care is another good example.
A few years ago the Government recognised that day care (for children under the age of 5) was not cheap as while it was subsidised by the State through payments to the day care centres, given it is private sector driven (but Government regulated) it is also profit motivated. In New Zealand we have a minimum wage which in turn drives up the cost of services in particular. This increasingly forced some parents to have to give up careers - usually women to raise children because they couldn’t afford private day care.
In response the Government introduced 20 hours of tax payer funded childcare a week – again, not means tested and it has been made available to all.
Whereas previously a family might spend close to $200 per week per child, expensive as a percentage of many peoples’ income, this cost was effectively halved, thus increasing the incentive for parents to go to work either fulltime or part time. If they choose. Choice is still important.
This 20 hours per week is available to children aged 3 - 5 inclusive. By aged 6 all children must by law be enrolled in school but usually we entrust them into the State’s bosom on their 5th birthday. So for the most part the State/taxpayers cough up this shared expense for two years.
What of those aged under 3 however?
Government offers a $516.00 per week subsidy when formal maternity or paternity leave is taken for a period of 16 weeks. On April 1 2016, this will increase to 18 weeks. As an aside you can take up to 12 months unpaid maternity or paternity leave and your employer must keep open your job for you to return to.
Additionally child care payments are available in between those years (end of paid maternity leave to 3rd birthday) but that is means tested. The more you earn the less you get.
This is all available to those with a resident visa as well as to citizens.
All in all a good compromise and to my way of thinking a nice balance between not forcing parents to make the choice – career or children which no human being should ever have to make.
Throw into that the fact that we have socialised health and education and this explains why, by and large, we have a society and economy in which our priorities (families) are balanced by a willingness and ability to fund it (by working) without too much rancour. All major political parties are wedded to this social contract.
It isn’t perfect but like most aspects of life that social contract between individual and State in New Zealand smooths a lot of the rough edges that affect economies like the US (where being a ‘socialist’ is one step removed from confessing to being a member of ISIL in the terror it engenders in many voters minds) and South Africa (where they want to offer these sorts of support structures but literally have too many people with the need and not enough with the ability to pay) and Singapore (where everyone is pretty much expected to just work harder and employ a maid from the Philippines).
Until next week
Something very interesting is happening in New Zealand. A quiet social service delivery revolution, that is being carefully watched around the world.
If you asked most Kiwis however I doubt they’d even know it is happening. Such is the Government’s caution they might get offside with the voters if it isn’t handled very tactfully. So far they have done a masterful job of flying this well under the radar.
We have Government that accepts that if you want something done really well, don’t give it to a public servant - I’d suggest health and education being the two exceptions to a greater or lesser extent. Given the tax dollars spent every day runs into the tens of millions on delivering services to the populace, this Government is serious about getting more out of each and every dollar for the same dollar spend.
And when a model appears broken or ineffective, to try something new. Such is the way of New Zealanders – a hotbed of social engineering and a willingness (usually) to try new ways of doing things.
What has been developed is a new social service delivery model which, on the surface, is like something out of the Hollywood blockbuster ‘Minority Report’. If you never saw it, the basic premise was that Tom Cruise’s character was tasked with preventing serious crimes before they happen - through profiling and intervention.
While Hollywood turned it into a big brother spectacular what New Zealand is doing is being quietly heralded across the developed world.
A number of years ago through bringing together large quantities of socio-economic data, a model was developed to predict future behavior and social outcomes. When it was applied retrospectively to see what might have happened to children born say, seven years ago, there was by all accounts a stunning accuracy of expected future rates of contact with state and non-state agencies.
When applied, it was able to predict with 70% accuracy which children born seven years ago would by that age have had some contact with state agencies - be it Children, Young Persons and Family Service, the Police or similar.
The argument goes that if at birth you can identify those children who are at serious risk through socio economic circumstances who over their lifetimes cost the taxpayer $1 million (‘million dollar babies’ as the Deputy Prime Minister calls them) through ending up in prison for example, the State or other agencies can get be more focused in their efforts and target the most vulnerable of our babies and young people through assisting their parents.
When you think about it, it is a noble ambition and not just for the dollars it might save but for the personal and public good it offers.
Who wants to give birth to a child that has a 70% chance of ending up in prison?
Of course it also raises some uncomfortable questions about the ethics of it. Not all the children who fall into this high risk profile end up as offenders or delinquents.
How would parents react if they were approached when they have just given birth by a well-meaning social services official (or perhaps more palatably someone from an NGO like Plunket or Salvation Army) extending a hand and gently taking this family under their wing? Would they react positively or would they feel ‘big brother’ is interfering? Would they feel stigmatised?
You have to admit…it is an interesting one.
I believe most parents know and want what is best and would likely not view the approach as stigmatising. However I can imagine that some would. I suspect those that most need the assistance (teenage or young single mothers for example) might accept the offer if the approach was done in a sensitive and non-judgemental way.
What though of the 30% of these children that will turn out okay regardless?
How should the State react if their approach is re-buffed?
Should intervention be compulsory?
Should the State demand they participate in more frequent visits from helpers? From budgeting agencies? From the Police?
It is for this reason the Government is not rushing to roll this model out and are doing it on the quiet given the obvious sensitivities involved in it. They are clearly aware that if it is not done with great respect and compassion and based on nothing more than trying to effect positive change rather than saving money it could all go horribly pear shaped.
I have to say good on them though. For seventy years we have had a social welfare system that initially served us well yet has a horrible tendency to trap people in a cycle of poverty (our version not the live on $2 a day version).
The current system clearly does not work as well as it could, it sucks up tens of millions a dollars each and every day and the models would suggest it is often failing the most vulnerable.
An ongoing highly comprehensive University of Otago Longitudinal study that began following the lives of several hundred New Zealand babies in 1977 re-wrote the old adage ‘show me the child at seven and I will show you the adult’ to ‘show me the child at three and I will show you the adult’.
Those first three years are crucial to what happens for the next 77.
Too many young people are being failed by the current system.
I take my hat off to the current crop of senior politicians who are not willing to sit idly by and tinker with a system that with the best intentions in the world does not stop New Zealand having one of the highest per capita incarceration rates and where child abuse is part of a small but significant percentage of everyday lives for some of our most vulnerable.
The question is will New Zealanders accept ‘big data’ being put to such use that is potentially a force for powerful good?
Should a Government official be entrusted with it?
When we have the likes of Edward Snowden banging on about Big Brother intruding into our everyday lives is this a chance for something positive to come from collection of data? After all New Zealand seems to measure and survey everything that lives and breathes (and then some).
We have the information. We now have a model - a highly accurate predictive model that can change futures for the better.
Shouldn’t we use it?
I for one give a cautious ‘thumbs up’ so long as it isn’t bureaucrats calling the shots. Our newest precious kiwis deserve every chance they can have in this country of ours.
Until next week
Iain MacLeod - Southern Man
Did Confucius or some other sage (at Saatchi and Saatchi?) once say that self-flattery is the lowest form of compliment?
I am not sure.
I learned this week just how good the team at Immagine really is when compared to the rest of the immigration advice industry. This week’s blog is not so much about my team as it is the abject failure of the New Zealand Government’s licensing scheme in protecting migrants from shoddy Advisers but it demonstrates I hope just how good we really are at what we do.
I long rallied against regulating this industry but have concluded that sensible regulation that is enforced can be beneficial. I didn’t need a license to build a name and a company off the back of delivering what migrants struggled to achieve without professional advice but I concede now having a license can reinforce that ‘brand’.
This business has been built on three key principles:
1. Treating clients as we would have them treat us if the roles were reversed
2. Don’t’ make promises you cannot keep
3. Offer value for money
We have now helped by our estimation over 21,000 people negotiate the residence process. Our success rate on visas filed is over 99.8% and possibly higher (but my math isn’t quite that good). Suffice it to say that if we file a Visa for someone there is very little chance it will not be granted.
I always assumed that while we are very good at what we do we were one of many. I learned this week that is not the case and we are among a tiny minority of Advisers with success rates this high.
Globally there are around 600 individually licensed immigration advisers.
I am not about to break confidences or name my source (the source is impeccable) but I have learned that if your immigration advisers/lawyer has been practicing for 5 years there is only 20 (something) on this planet who have better than a 90% visa approval rate.
To say I was shocked at this is an understatement. If among the best two dozen advisers there are any that have decline rates even approaching 10% on visa applications then it has to be concluded that the Government has allowed too many people to obtain licenses too easily and not enough is being done to lift the standard of entry into the industry or ensuring the standards of those with licenses remains high.
As a result of intense industry pressure late last year the Government announced a review of the Immigration Advisers Licensing Authority at which a number of us had levelled serious criticisms about their failure to offer much in the way of protection to so called ‘vulnerable migrants’, in large part because they were dishing out licenses to people simply unqualified and who lacked the experience to be given the responsibility. A few weeks ago the Registrar fell on his sword and resigned. I could be generous and say he will be missed but that would be untrue given migrants are, in my view, still not getting the protection the Authority was legislated to provide.
The Authority’s programme of creating a (pathetic) Immigration Advice Diploma course at the end of which ‘graduates’ are given a full licence to practice was always foolhardy and they were warned of it. Setting loose on the markets people who have no practical experience with the real world of migration laws and processes, migrants and the Immigration Department was a recipe for disaster.
And so it has now proved.
The first mistake of the Authority was having no real understanding of what good, competent and ethical Advisers like us do all day. Their focus was on making us comply with odd business practices rather than the quality of the work we do. It surely was simple enough to monitor approval rates on visa applications which in my view is the measure of the value and competence of an Adviser.
The second was to believe that graduates of their course were somehow entitled to employment and are being given licenses to practice. Who believes that graduates of any course are entitled to anything? Auckland University School of Law doesn’t promise law graduates jobs. No one promised me a job when I left Auckland University.
For some reason the Authority believed they needed to create an industry – when one already had been in existence for a quarter century and generally working well (certainly no worse) than when it was created six years ago.
As a consequence the market has been flooded by about 70 Advisers a year most of whom have no practical or real world experience. People who are sanctioned by the State to wave a license around and offer advice to those thinking of making the biggest decision they will likely ever make in their lives.
We have strongly advocated (and will continue to do so through the formal review of the Authority) that given the serious damage (financial and emotional) of getting eligibility advice wrong no one should be given a full license to practice without either working under the supervision of an fully licensed, experienced, competent and ethical Adviser for 2-3 years (law graduates in New Zealand for example cannot work on their own account for I believe three years after qualifying) or if they wish to be self-employed until they have filed a certain minimum number of visa applications across all categories, whose applications and outcomes have been closely monitored by the Immigration Department and/or the Authority and who cannot demonstrate an approval rate of at least 97% (I’d exclude refugee claims from that given they are a whole different kettle of legal fish).
There is also the issue of beefing up complaints and compliance.
In every market we work in overseas we are constantly meeting migrants who have been ripped off or poorly advised on their options by people with full licenses but who should quite simply not hold them. Particularly in South Africa and Malaysia.
The Authority clearly has real problems trying to enforce NZ law on overseas based Advisers but it is hoped once they get their house in order under new leadership they will focus every more rigorously on cleaning out those with licenses in South Africa, Malaysia, India, Philippines, China and beyond who are giving inaccurate, misleading and often woeful advice to would be New Zealanders whose visa applications are failing to be approved.
While I hesitate to compare helping people relocate and settle with selling milk powder, New Zealand enjoys a reputation globally for openness, transparency and above all quality of product and service. The national Farmer Co-op, Fonterra, got into big trouble last year in its biggest market, China, through a botulism scare in some of its infant formula product. While it turned out to be a false alarm it did serious harm to one of New Zealand’s key industries, cost the country several hundred million dollars in lost income and more than that brought into question New Zealand’s reputation for only dealing in quality and reliable products and services. While the milk powder and infant formula markets have bounced back and continue to lead the economic expansion of the economy it was a good lesson for not settling for less than 100%.
My industry is no different to all those New Zealand exporters competing around the world. As Licensed Advisers we have the power to shape futures positively or negatively. The Immigration Advisers Licensing Authority was set up not just to protect migrants from dodgy or incompetent Advisers but to help protect the reputation of New Zealand as a migrant destination and every Adviser that lets the side down by filing inadequate or incorrect visa applications lets ‘team New Zealand ‘down.
To learn this week that Immagine New Zealand probably employs 4 of perhaps two dozen people on this planet with a success rate with visa applications higher than 90% was truly a shock to me.
Our aim is 100% and probably would be if all clients were honest about everything from the get go. I can probably only expect 99.8%.
It isn’t bad even if it isn’t perfect. And it does put our team in a minority of perhaps 3% of all those with licenses.
Things have got to change and I intend continuing to be part of the charge.
Until next week
Iain MacLeod - Southern Man
As you will no doubt be aware from last weeks blog, the Southern Man has taken a leave of absence this week, pursuing his own personal equivalent of the Tour de France, through Central Otago on the world famous (in New Zealand) Otago Rail Trail.
He has been updating the office regularly with tales of climbing great peaks, pedalling for hours, freezing cold mornings, and stunning scenery; all part of the fun I am sure. Thus far it appears he will be back in one piece next week and no doubt reporting on his adventures, but in the meantime he has entrusted the weekly blog to me.
It wasn’t difficult for me to pick a topic for this week’s blog, simply because when you do what we do there are always interesting stories to tell. There is one, however, that has been a simultaneous source of laughter and frustration for me and one of my colleagues over the last couple of months. A story which I believe has to be shared. For those of you in South Africa, this will be familiar territory; for those of you in other parts of the world, it may surprise or shock you (or might also be familiar), but will definitely prompt at least a few chuckles.
Before I tell my story let me share with you a great and very relevant quote, which I have stuck on the wall in my study at home:
“There was an important job to be done and Everybody was asked to do it. Everybody was sure somebody would do it. Anybody could have done it, but Nobody did it. Somebody got angry about that because it was Everybody's job. Everybody thought Anybody could do it, but Nobody realized that Everybody wouldn't do it. It ended up that everybody blamed Somebody when actually Nobody asked Anybody.”
I often refer to this during heated conversations with my wife, over why various domestic chores never get done (don’t try this yourself - it doesn’t work) and also to remind me to remain calm when doing my day job. We deal with Government departments all day every day, not only in New Zealand but all over the world in an attempt to gather together all of the bits of paper one needs to file an application for Residence. If there was ever a position created to administer every Government department in the world, and I was elected the Chief Executive, my first point of order would be to add the above quote to the mission statement.
For anyone that has had to deal with a Government department in South Africa, I am pretty sure they would want that quote emblazoned across the department’s front door in neon flashing lights.
The following is just one example of the hundreds of stories we could tell, but it is a particularly humorous one (something light for the Easter break).
We routinely send off requests to the South African Police for ‘Clearance Certificates’ on behalf of our clients. It is supposed to be a fairly straightforward process where we send the applicant’s fingerprints, a copy of their passport and the fee to the SA police in order for them to search their database (rifle through stacks of paper) and issue the clearance.
For this particular client we followed the ‘normal’ process and the application was sent away by courier. Eager to follow up on its progress and knowing that they usually take around 6-8 weeks to do anything about it, my very diligent (and patient) colleague Jo, followed up a few weeks later to check on progress. What followed on from there makes me laugh every time I think about it.
Firstly the person in charge of this request (let’s call her Janice – not her actual name) asked whether or not our client was a South African citizen, this would have been plainly obvious from the copy of the passport that had been provided; nonetheless we confirmed that he was.
The next email from Janice was a request for his South African ID number, which again would have been pretty obvious from his passport; however we confirmed his ID number and asked for an update.
We were then advised by Janice that the cheque payment included with the application was ‘unacceptable’. We still to this day don’t know why it was unacceptable or where the cheque is, but that doesn’t surprise me greatly. There was also no suggestion as to what to do next, so of course we asked and shortly after we were given bank account details to complete a telegraphic funds transfer for the R59.00 fee. Despite the fact that the fee in New Zealand dollars was equivalent to $6.00 and the cost to send the transfer was more than the fee itself, the client immediately did this and we advised Janice accordingly.
Having received no update we followed up again and received the following response: “Hi, Are you an (sic) SA citizen”. At this point I was about to give up and I was conjuring up all sorts of expletives to put down in an email as a response. My very patient colleague however responded politely (not sure how she managed that) and reiterated the fact that the request was for my client and they had all the information they needed.
Shortly thereafter, Janice informed us that the clearance was ready for collection. We contacted our courier company to collect it and have it returned to us. The courier called the next day to advise that it was in fact not yet ready and hence no Police Clearance for my client. It turns out that the bank details that Janice had given us were incorrect and the payment hadn’t been made. I am not sure how that translated into her email that the Clearance was ready, but frankly at this point I wouldn’t have been surprised if the Police Department had relocated its offices to the moon and they actually wanted us to complete an intergalactic funds transfer.
We emailed Janice again and, understandably, Jo’s patience by now was about as thin as the paper you would print a Police Clearance on. Janice in her wisdom sent back the same account details – leaving us all scratching our heads. Searching for a solution, as we do, we suggested that the client pay the fee again, this time asking someone in South Africa to physically deposit the money; which he did.
Today we have sent off what we hope is our final response to Janice to try and track down one piece of paper which has taken three payment attempts, 20 or so emails and a good deal of patience to obtain. I only hope they spell his name right.
You might be wondering what the client thought about all of this, which is best summed up in his email to us (and is going to be the next quote on my study wall – perhaps in neon lights):
“Hi Jo, ‘If you are not confused, you are misinformed’ - South African Police credo.”
With any luck we will almost be at the end of the process and within a few days he should have that lovely yellow certificate that we have been chasing for the last two months, that is of course unless Janice, (who is all at once the Nobody, Somebody, Everybody and Anybody from my original quote) still isn’t sure whether he is a South African citizen, or we are or whether or not she is … I’ll keep you posted.
Until next week when the Southern Man returns – Paul Janssen (acting Southern Man)
We have just had our national elections and as expected the centre right National Party was returned to power and will form the next Government with two (very) minor parties in coalition for the next three years.
I was going to write about the upcoming election last week but decided it was too dull and boring (one thing about living in a highly stable democracy is that politics here really will put you to sleep most of the time) but an article that appeared in the New Zealand Herald this morning has made me think.
The article suggested that significant numbers of new immigrants do not register or vote in elections.
Given the fact that many of our migrants come from countries that do not have true democratic elections or come from (effective) one party states like South Africa I would have thought that most would jump at the chance to be involved in this process.
On Saturday only around 65% of all eligible voters (not just migrants) turned out for this year’s election which is the lowest in percentage terms for 120 years.
I don’t know if migrants vote or don’t vote (feedback please!!) but in terms of those who have been here a few years or were born here I rather suspect the main reason for this is that the two major parties that slug it out to be the biggest political party in Government were polling so differently that many people probably thought it just wasn’t worth turning out to vote.
The National Party were so far ahead in the polls that I am sure some of their own supporters probably thought there was no point in turning up. Arguably the major opposition Labour Party supporters perhaps thought the same – their ticket was polling so poorly that they were going to lose heavily and thought that their vote would make no difference.
Which I find really odd.
I wouldn’t miss voting for the world.
When I have been overseas during elections I have always cast a special vote.
My eldest son turned 18 in September and I felt it was extremely important that he register to vote and to then accept the responsibility that comes with living in a democracy and have his say in this his first election.
It is so easy here – you can register online to vote and it takes all of five minutes. Within a few days you will receive a pack where you have to decide which of the Electoral Rolls you wish to be on – the General or the Maori (those who identify as being of Maori descent have a small amount of seats available to them out of the 120 seat Parliament – that is another story for another day).
Even if you can’t get to a polling booth on the day the Electoral Commission will arrange for someone to either come and pick you up (seriously) or if you are disabled or sick they come and help you to cast a special vote. My colleague Chris flew out to Malaysia late last week and there was even a polling booth in the Qantas Lounge at Auckland airport! How cool (and organised) is that?
Back to my son, I even took photos of him with his first ever ‘quick vote’ card outside the polling booth. He of course thought I was “being a dick as usual” but having taken both my sons down to the local polling booth every year since they were very young to share in this three yearly rite I was so keen to join him as he cast his first ballot. More excited than he apparently was to have me with him…
In fact it has to be said that I was extra excited this year given we had another contributing member of our great little democracy off to do his bit.
When I enter the local polling station to cast my ballots I am always struck by how serious and solemn I feel about it – as if my vote really will make a difference to the country in which I live.
Which when you think about it is kind of silly but I guess democracy is based on the whole being greater than the sum of its parts. I always feel as though my votes are the most important ones made on the day. Really, I do.
We get two votes under this system – one for the local electorate candidate and one for a political party. It is a system called Mixed Member Proportional representation or MMP for short. It means that parties end up with the number of seats in Parliament that reflects the percentage of their national vote (more or less). Similar to Germany it generally leads to coalitions with one dominant party supported by one or two smaller ones.
The system is effectively designed to prevent any one party having an outright majority of seats in Parliament and exercising unbridled power. I for one am a bit of a fan of this system although critics will tell you that it means too much horse trading. Some might just call it compromise. Tails don’t wag dogs in our Parliament however and by and large it seems to work.
This year we also got to vote in a referendum on whether we wished to retain the current Mixed Member Proportional voting system or change it. As a result we had two ballot papers – one for the referendum and one to vote for Parliament.
Having entered the hall, handed over my ‘Quick Vote’ card and being ‘ticked off’ the electoral roll (all in the space of about two minutes) I was handed my two voting papers – one orange and one purple.
I solemnly reminded my son how the system worked and how he goes about selecting his Party and candidate and in grateful reply received a “Yeah dad you’ve like, only explained it, like, a thousand times already” so I left him to it, scuttled off into a ‘booth’ and made my sacred marks on the coloured ballot papers.
Having done so I then went to the very helpfully marked orange and purple boxes and proceeded to put the purple referendum voting paper in the orange box and the orange election voting paper in the purple box!
I couldn’t believe it. I broke into a cold sweat. I laughed nervously when I told my wife what had happened. Would my votes be disallowed? Not counted? Would ‘my’ party not get elected? What if my local candidate lost by one vote? I couldn’t bear the thought of it. You may well laugh dear reader but in the Christchurch Central electorate there was a dead heat on Saturday with two candidates getting something like 10,349 votes each so it does happen!!
We’ve all heard of the butterfly effect – had I just changed the course of New Zealand history owing to my idiocy?
I felt like a complete imbecile of course and had to ask one of the ‘officials’ if they would recognise my precious votes when it came to counting time. They actually didn’t say yes but I think they indicated they would. I was so gutted that I may have blown it that I wasn’t really listening.
My son just laughed. You have to love teenagers. He ticked his boxes, made his ‘political statement’, placed his votes in the correctly coloured boxes and went to the sausage sizzle being run by the local Russian Orthodox church members (in whose hall the voting was being done) and snacked merrily on a snag in bread dripping in tomato sauce. No doubt secure in the knowledge he really is the son of a ‘dick’.
So it is over for another three years.
And just for the record my party ‘won’ and the local candidate I voted for was also elected to Parliament.
For those of you recently arrived or not yet here a few ‘need to knows’ on voting:
1. It is mandatory as a citizen or permanent resident when you turn 18 to enrol to vote and to get registered on the Electoral Roll.
2. Voting however is not compulsory.
3. You get two votes – one for the party you wish to see in Parliament and a second electorate vote where you vote for the person in your local electorate you want to send off to Parliament.
All rather simple really.
A little bit of housekeeping to finish up.
We are closing for our Christmas break (I’m counting the days) on Thursday 22 December at mid day and we re-open on 9 January 2012. If you have any visa applications you need filed please ensure they get here no later than Friday 17 December. The Immigration Department will close on 23 December and likely reopen on Wednesday 4 January so nothing will happen over that time with applications even if filed.
Over the Christmas break we will not be clearing phone messages. Emails may be answered from time to time but I will leave this up to each consultant. Any mail that arrives will be held at the Post Office/Courier depots etc. awaiting our re-opening on 9 January.
Those of you in Singapore – Chris Noakes is heading your way to present his final seminar for 2011 this Saturday. You can register here.