Editor's Picks


Hope amidst despair

30 November 2020

OPINION: The true cost of time theft in the public sector

Thursday 19 November 2020 | Written by Supplied | Published in Editorials, Opinion


OPINION: The true cost of time theft in the public sector
Individuals holding top jobs in government may be taking a little too much time for their lunch breaks, and the public ends up paying the cost, writes Te Tuhi Kelly. 18062801

Ordinary staff members are not the only ones that steal time, some heads of ministries are taking longer than normal lunch breaks and morning and afternoon tea breaks. By Te Tuhi Kelly.

It’s true enough that we have the Covid pandemic decimating our economy and we know that this is unsustainable long term and all of us has to pitch in. However, closer to home people in the Cook Islands are stealing the crops and the fruit grown in our gardens and most times, onselling to unscrupulous or ignorant buyers. No one sees, says or owns up to whomever is doing this!

I have lived in the Cook Islands coming up to 11 years and have personally seen the damage that is caused by staff stealing jewellery, cash, electronics, perfume, clothes and all manner of food items and liquor from one’s business and one’s clients. I have seen staff take accumulated 30 minutes off here, there and everywhere and they either are ignorant or don’t care because this is theft of time and when one adds this up over say 12-months, that is 10 working days for each employee that does this. Imagine a workforce of 10 or more doing this that means that for a business they have lost or paid out 3-months free wages for one person total and that is huge.

For those in the public service, it is even worse when they are just let go after rorting the public purse and those charged with looking after our public monies allow this sort of behaviour to proliferate and mismanage its consequences time and time again.

Those doing it are rarely prosecuted under Cook Islands law because many organisations and people here cannot be bothered following this up and just terminate these people. These thieves are then employed elsewhere without proper recruitment checks being conducted. So, in some ways organisations are their own worst enemy when it comes to stamping out this blight on our communities, and so these thieves do it again and again. Having been involved in investigating or assisting in investigating these, I can tell you that there is a definite apathy out there.

People do not realise that for every dollar stolen it takes a business up to $50 of sales to get that $1 loss back. It means the difference between profit or loss, downtime getting a replacement, advertising, training the newbie, getting other staff to take up the slack, loss of a contract or contracts, loss of face, bad publicity, installation of security cameras, hiring security staff and that is because of that one act of theft.

Even worse for a government body or non-governmental organisation because that is a budget that no longer is able to service its needs adequately.

Ordinary staff members are also not the only ones that steal time, I have seen heads of ministries taking longer than normal lunch breaks and morning and afternoon tea breaks, coffees, unscheduled meetings, late sessions, mates, friends, rallys and other excuses for meetings. If these are not genuine for the purposes of their organisations then this is theft of time and considering the salaries and wages they are paid, it is downright criminal and a drain on the public purse.

We cannot and must not let these people get away with it, because it sends the wrong message and sets the tone for more thievery without proper consequences. We have got so bad at managing theft that we protect the thief not the victim. We allow the thief to go free, we do not tell the community who they are, we protect their name and the name of the thieves’ families. We make excuses for their poor behaviour and give them an out as to their upbringing and their circumstances notwithstanding that similar people brought up that way do not resort to such antisocial behaviour. We give them a slap on the wrist and send them on their way with forgiveness, and they do it again. Meanwhile the victim is left holding the baby, little redress, little recompense, little faith in a system designed to protect the law abiding because of privacy issues.

This is very much the ‘needy, seedy and greedy’ model of people doing this and each of these descriptors has differing approaches for sustaining successful social outcomes. The government must invest properly in ensuring that the community at large does not suffer because of the misdeeds of the few.