Wednesday, March 04, 2009

It takes 12 to Quango

Be careful what you wish for. After asking for the doc behind this story at Macdoctor's, subsequently taken up by DPF, I have just been brain raped by one of the most fist-chewingly turgid and inane reports I've read. And I read a lot. It's all thanks to the 2007 Annual Report to the Minister of Health from the National Ethics Advisory Committee.

The NEAC was formed by Labour back in 2000 and is a classic quango. For one thing, it looks like a quango. It is armed with obscure and ineffable purpose, with undue power over their unknown subordinates, and a budget. It talks like a quango. Some examples:
Ethical values for a pandemic

An influenza pandemic would be likely to involve high levels of illness and death. Pandemic planning aims to prevent a pandemic when possible, and to minimise negative impacts where prevention is not possible. Considering ethical issues as part of pandemic planning will better equip us to react to a pandemic by acting on shared values using common sense and imagination, even when we have little time.
Sub-quangos to appeal quango decisions:
Sub-Committee on Appeals

The National Ethics Advisory Committee will convene a Sub-Committee on Appeals (the SCA). Whereas the main statutory function of the National Ethics Advisory Committee is to advise the Minister of Health on ethical issues of national significance regarding health and disability, the function of its SCA is to review particular proposals at appeal.
The SCA may only hear appeals in cases where a second opinion from the Health Research Council Ethics Committee has been sought (by either the original ethics committee or the researcher) and received, and the matter reconsidered by the original ethics committee. All appeals will be from the decision made by the original committee following the second opinion.
Glidetime rules that would make blue collar workers weep in envy:
There is an expectation that SCA members will make every effort to attend all SCA meetings and devote sufficient time to become familiar with the affairs of the SCA and the wider environment within which it operates.
But with much better compensation:
The Chairperson will receive $430 per day (plus half a day’s preparation fee) and an allowance of two extra days per month to cover additional work undertaken by the Chairperson. The attendance fee for members is set at $320 per day (plus half a day’s preparation fee). The Ministry of Health pays for actual and reasonable travel and accommodation expenses of the National Ethics Advisory Committee members.
Now quangos by and large aren't all bad. The old man was once member of the Casino Control Authority. From memory, members were renumerated $500 a day for Authority work, excluding expenses. I remember this because the old man used to grumble about time to and froing to meetings from out of town. But this was complicated work with millions and millions of dollars at stake, inventing casino regulations out of nothing, and there were stuff all lawyers queueing up for what amounted to a full day's work for an hour's pay.

But this NEAC is rubbish. By wielding its undeserved power over what sounds like a jumped-up science fair experiment goes too far. If a quango can't add value, fair go. But when a quango actively gums up the wheels of research instead of greasing them, it's got to go.