The mind behind it all

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Who's boss?

Peter Hughes' revealing answer on who is boss

Peter Hughes was asked why government ministers always spoke with the same voice, whether they were with Labour or with the National Party.

His answer was:

"In relation to policy, there will always ever be one agreed government position. Policy is constant and will not change."

And that's it. All power to the CEO, not to a Minister and not to the New Zealand government of the day.

Watch here on our YouTube channel:

All power and control to the Chief Executive of MSD

You might have thought that the Prime Minister was the most powerful and influential person in New Zealand.

This surely applies to most decision-making processes in politics and on policies in this country, as we have seen in last minute U-turns on important questions which upset Maori and the Maori Party in particular.

Then there is the Governor-General. In general he has no influence on politics but signs Government policies and laws and represents New Zealand’s Head of State, Queen Elizabeth II.

New Zealanders get continuous insight into Government politics through the media which daily televise and publish statements and denials on nearly everything. Imagine a week just like this:

As Government ministers are allowed to think for themselves they are also allowed to voice their opinions to the media. But if the Prime Minister has a different opinion he or she tells them to change their opinions and say that they were too fast to speak out in public and now share the Prime Minister's opinion because this is the real Government policy... You get the idea.

The more astonishing it is that all New Zealand governments have vested all power with regard to the treatment of overseas pensions in the hands of the Chief Executive of the Ministry of Social Development (MSD). This almighty power includes the essential question which overseas pensions can be deducted from NZ Super.

Unlike private secretaries and assistants who change with every change of Government because such posts are given to party faithfuls, the Chief Executive of MSD has been Peter Hughes under the Labour and the National Governments, until he resigned in September 2011 - just to climb further up on the ladder.

Eleven times mentioned in (former) Section 70

The Chief Executive is the mind behind the 2005 and 2007 Reviews of New Zealand Superannuation and Overseas Pensions. He is the one who at some point decided that the decisive factor is not the nature of overseas pensions but their purpose (i.e. that an age pension is paid at retirement). But the real purpose is that overseas pensions are a welcome opportunity for revenue gathering in order to finance New Zealand pensions.

Of course, the Chief Executive would not judge the nature of overseas pension without legal advice from a group of law experts. But it does not change the fact that he is the first and last authority to give out instructions to WINZ to deduct most overseas pensions from NZ Super. If he accepts the ill-informed or mean-spirited (or both...) recommendations of so-called experts, he must also take the blame for it.

The Chief Executive is also the mind behind the Wellington Mandarins, the ghostwriters who answer the letters angry and desperate pensioners write to Government ministers and the Prime Minister on the issue.

If you scan Section 70 - which has been renamed into Sections 187-191 in 2018 - you will find the expression "Chief Executive" highlighted eleven times. This is the evidence that the Government has given all the power to a loyal civil servant whose word is law. He surely has calculated how much it would cost the state not to deduct overseas pensions.

The numbers he presented to the respective Cabinets have probably spoken clearly enough to keep the Government(s) from taking power and control back. They might even have led the Prime Minister(s) and Ministers of Social Development to instruct the Chief Executive to find reasons for leaving the Direct Deduction Policy unchanged. This could have been the trigger for his spectacular mind twist on the nature and purpose of pensions.

No-one knows the Direct Deduction Policy better than the Chief Executive. No-one knows better how unfair it is. He (and since 2019: she) must be a well-loved civil servant, saving the Government such a lot of money. The more wrongful decisions they make on the treatment of overseas pensions, the more they are loved by their superiors.

Taking the next step on the ladder

It was no April Fools' Day joke: The Ministry of Social Development (MSD) announced on 1 April 2011 that Peter Hughes, the ministry's Chief Executive, would leave his post in September 2011. We had thought this was good news for superannuitants with overseas pensions, as Hughes was the mind behind the hardship many retirees are subject to due to the Direct Deduction Policy. We thought with a new CEO things could only get better - as they could not get any worse. But the hopes were dashed under his successor Brendan Boyle. He was even involved in the scandal around fake names civil servants used in their correspondence. More about this in this article: Request for MSD enquiry

After his resignation, Peter Hughes got from one important post to the next. In July 2016 he took up the role of New Zealand’s State Services Commissioner and Head of State Services! He has received awards for his outstanding work! A short biography here:

Not a poor man

Not that you think the Chief Executive would have reason to be jealous of any pensioner who is entitled to an overseas pension. In the story "All things being equal" the NZ Listener (May 1-7 2010, Vol 223, No 3651) reported that Peter Hughes was one of the many civil servants who earned more than the Prime Minister:

"Today, not only have jobs for the low-skilled become scarcer and more poorly paid, but the rewards at the top have exploded.

In the state sector, 16 chiefs earn more than the Prime Minister’s NZ$ 393,000, including Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade chief ­executive John Allen on NZ$ 610,000, Ministry of Social Development chief executive Peter Hughes on NZ$ 560,000, and Treasury secretary John Whitehead, also on NZ$ 560,000."

In 2010 at NZ$ 593,000

According to the later figures (October 2010), Peter Hughes' was the highest-paid public servant in New Zealand. His annual salary was NZ$ 593,000. He did not get a payrise in 2010, so had to cope with NZ$ 11,346 a week before tax. This salary did not include a possible bonus.

Isn't it ironic that the man who is in charge of beneficiaries is the highest-paid civil servant?

Brendan Boyle succeeding Peter Hughes

Debbie Power after Brendan Boyle

1 October 2011 - 2019

Brendan Boyle became the new CEO of the Ministry of Social Development, as the successor of all overseas pensioners' arch-enemy Peter Hughes, in 2011. He again was succeeded by Debbie Power in February 2019. We have not heard much about her - neither good nor bad. But before taking on her new role, she worked with Peter Hughes at the State Services Commission.

Information about Debbie Power on MSD's website:

(Last update: 23.11.2021)

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