The Problem Gambling Foundation – too much of a problem for the government?

The Problem Gambling Foundation is getting its government funding axed. From 30 June 2014, its contact with the Ministry of Health will disappear. So why has this decision been made?

According to the PGF, the Ministry of Health “has told PGF it has a superior offer for the clinical and public health services PGF provides”.

On the other hand, Tau Henare tweeted yesterday:

“… but why should Govt pay a group to be critical of it? Pay them to help but don’t pay them to bag the hand that feeds them.”

So let’s look at both of these possibilities.

If the PGF has accurately reported what it was told by the Ministry of Health, that raises more than a few questions. Given that the PGF is Australasia’s largest single treatment organisation, who on earth is the organisation that has put forward the “superior offer” to provide the PGFs current clinical and public health services? How precisely is this organisation going to take over on 30 June without existing services disappearing (after all, the PGF’s confidential counselling services currently operate from more than 60 NZ locations)? What process was undertaken to decide whether the PGF’s contract should be renewed, and how transparent was that process (I’m thinking back to the ‘Diagnostic Medlab v Labtests Auckland’ saga of a few years back)?

Or was there a political element to all of this? The PGF has a been a very vocal critic of the government’s gambling policy, including the watering down of Te Ururoa Flavell’s Gambling Harm Reduction Bill and, most prominently, the Sky City convention centre deal. Judging by Mr Henare’s tweet, this has obviously annoyed the hell out of the government, and Mr Henare’s tweet certainly seems to suggest utu.

Obviously, with Tau Henare, there’s a higher than normal chance that his tweet involved not a jot of prior forethought, and his words are simply the off-the-cuff ramblings of someone who can’t stand the thought of other people or organisations not sharing his political views (and even worse, actually telling people that his political party is wrong!). Some later tweets from that particular thread seem to back that up:

Lew @LewSOS: “So true, @tauhenare. Every group in a democracy should be judged on its allegiance to the ruling party, that’s how we ensure the best advice”

West Side Tory @tauhenare: “no that’s not what I said you tard, [sic] I said yes they should get money to help but no to money to criticise. You need to listen.”

Leaving aside Mr Henare’s schoolyard bluster and insult, the major issue that he appears to miss is that the PGF’s advocacy/lobby activities are privately funded. (I’ve occasionally wondered why the PGF didn’t ever set up a completely separate lobbying entity, to ensure that its political stance remained distinct from its health services – it may now be kicking itself that it never did.)

At the end of the day, there’s not enough evidence yet to make a call one way or another about just why the government has done what it’s done. However, if there’s no backup organisation ready and waiting to deliver the same level of services that are currently provided by the PGF, then some serious questions need to be asked about whether publicly funded contracts are being used to silence opposition voices.

Update:

It’s now been revealed that the contract has gone to the Salvation Army, and that the process of awarding the contract to the Sallies has already been independently reviewed by PWC.

I would imagine the Ministry of Health wanted to protect itself as much as possible against claims of political interference. Unfortunately, blowhards like Tau Henare seem determined to compromise perception of why the decision has been made.

Update 2:

Okay, things are getting really strange now. A Salvation Army spokesperson was just on National Radio’s Checkpoint, where he stated that the Sallies do not yet have a contract, employ less than one third of the staff that the PGF currently do with regard to problem gambling matters, and are not sure when they will be offered a contract. They couldn’t say whether they would be the sole provider of problem gambling services, or whether they would only be contracted for the majority of existing services, with other smaller providers being involved.

This was then confirmed by Peter Dunne, who stated that negotiations were still continuing. He also confirmed that PWC has independently reviewed the process that was followed in conducting the tender, finding it to be “robust”. But if a contract hasn’t even been awarded, and the Salvation Army don’t know what they might or might not be offered, how exhaustive could PWC’s review have been?

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