Slaves to process are not what we need

OPINION: Serial rapist Malcolm Rewa is currently being tried for the horrific 1992 murder of Susan Burdett. The case is infamous because Teina Pora was wrongfully imprisoned for twenty years and awarded $3.5 million compensation. I do not begrudge Pora one cent of that, but as a taxpayer, I would have preferred no payout - because his case should never have ended up in court in the first place.

Pora has foetal alcohol syndrome and a mental age of ten. He confessed to a murder after 14 hours of questioning without a lawyer. Phil Taylor reported that Pora couldn't even find the street Burdett lived on. There were plenty of reasons for crown lawyers to simply dismiss the confession before trial. Even the police involved in the investigation didn't want the case to proceed because they were convinced Malcolm Rewa had done it.

But the confession was the start of a process, and the process was followed to the letter. Pora was convicted in 1994. Then Rewa was convicted in 1999 for the same crime, with DNA evidence. Surely Pora could have been released then. Instead, the process called for another trial. Our adversarial justice system is not looking for the truth. Prosecutors like to win, and win they did in 2000 despite clear evidence to the contrary.

As more details came to light, even judges believed he was innocent. But the process said Pora had used up his appeals, and because of that, the courts did nothing. He was soon eligible for parole, but to be released, the convict needs to admit the crime. Pora couldn't do that, and was kept locked up through 12 parole hearings, because that is the process.

The next step in the process was a request for the Royal Prerogative of Mercy, which is carried out by the Governor General. What should have been simple took so long, that in 2013, Pora's legal team dropped it in favour of a challenge to Britain's Privy Council. By this time, the Police Association was officially calling for a review of Pora's conviction. Yet he still had to wait another 2 years of going through the process before common sense prevailed in 2015. But he had already been released having served out his twenty year sentence.

Good processes are essential to the efficient and effective operation of any organisation, so the people who manage the processes have a very important role to play and need to be held accountable. I cannot comprehend the mindset of people who belligerently stick to processes that produce bad outcomes such as Pora's case. Unfortunately it is all too common.

Reasonable people do not expect processes to be perfect all the time – there are always exceptions and individual circumstances. Where problems arise, there needs to be some flexibility to respond appropriately. This should be seen as an opportunity to learn and improve the process for the next time.

Audit NZ has just released its report into Wintec, slamming the poor processes covering spending of taxpayer funds. I am less disappointed in dodgy receipts than I am in WINTEC management subsequently blowing over $500,000 blocking questions and defending bad processes. It shows that process managers have no intention of learning from the mistakes and improving the system.

Let's keep a close eye on what happens now. If the process doesn't change, then it is time to change the managers.  

I am shocked that the Waikato District Health Board is now challenging the coroner's report into their processes that contributed to the tragic death of Nicky Stevens. The 21-year old was entrusted to the care of the hospital at a time of need.

The coroner found some faults, which is undeniable given the outcome. The history of medical and mental health care is a process of trying new treatments, learning from failures, and gradually improving with continuous change. We cannot expect perfection but we hope for the best. The DHB's repeated refusal to admit their mistakes means this process of developing better care is being undermined.  Yet again, resources are being misdirected. It is unacceptable.

I call on DHB members who want the report to pay for it from their own pockets. If they don't think it is good value to do that, then they should not expect the rest of us to pay for it.

The cause of all these failures is a management belief that protecting the system from criticism is good for the organisation. In a complex, fast-evolving world, that is a sure way of guaranteeing eventual collapse. Change is needed.


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