When it’s unwise to pretend you’re protecting the ignorant

01 June 2013 / by Brian Mackie / Consultation, Costs, Governance
Thomas Gray: A man who would be unemployable in 21st Century public service

Thomas Gray: An 18th Century visionary whose opinions would make him unfit for a job in the 21st Century New Zealand CAA

Last year, many aircraft owners were puzzled when the CAA’s annual demand for registration fees and participation levy failed to arrive in late June.

Some owners asked CAA personnel why, and were told that computer problems had delayed the issue of invoices. But it soon became clear that the demand for money was being deliberately delayed so that the CAA could impose its increased and back-dated fees for this so-called service for 2012-13, after they had been signed off by Transport Minister Gerry Brownlee in late October.

This year, it’s a whole new game of balls. Every aircraft owner with an internet connection and email address has received a message from Julia Reed at the CAA attaching a letter (which will no doubt also arrive in the snail mail, because public servants must stick together and the Jobsworths at NZ Post are in dire straits).

This CAA email indicates a dramatic change in the Authority’s approach to communicating with its customers. When we questioned the CAA about its consultation process over the infamous price increases of November 1 2012, we noted:

The CAA maintains an extensive database of names, physical addresses and email addresses of individual “clients”. This database is used regularly for mail-outs such as the posting of forms to be filled in for aircraft operating statistics and it is also used to promulgate information on safety-related subjects such as aircraft technical directives.

When questioned in a letter to the CAA on 25 November 2012 as to why individual clients of the CAA who are listed on the extensive CAA email database were not advised by email of the consultation process, Ms Salote Raiwalui, Solicitor Rules Drafting, said:

“Consideration was given to e-mailing all document holders. However, due to document holders not maintaining correct email addresses and the nature of spamming filters in ISP nodes this action was regarded as technically, inappropriate, problematic and ineffectual.”

In this terse statement, the CAA had revealed that it was holding out-of-date records, had no means of controlling them, and displayed a bewildering ignorance of how ISP spamming filters work.

In the letter attached to Julia Reed’s email, Geoff Connor, Manager Aircraft Certification, tells owners what almost all of them know: If they own an aircraft, they must pay for its registration and the participation levy. He sternly dictates the obvious.

So what’s new here, Geoff? And has something happened to improve the accuracy of your Authority’s database, making it possible for you to lecture all aircraft owners?

(Few – including me – know what the participation levy is spent on, but Geoffrey missed a golden opportunity to explain, in his somewhat strident epistle.)

One GAA supporter was mystified by this unexpected initiative. He asked Julia what was going on.

Julia replied:

“Over the last year we have had a lot of aircraft owners confused over the Annual registration and Participation levy especially over buying/ selling or deregistering aircraft around this time and who is responsible for the invoice. This letter has generated a lot of response from aircraft owners who didn’t even know they had an annual invoice and some owners who have sold aircraft but not carried out the changes, it also has given aircraft owners the option to remove aircraft from the register if they are in a long term restoration project or withdrawn from service prior to 1 July. All aircraft on the register on 1 July will be invoiced to the registered owner at this time. The flexibility that we had in the past afforded to aircraft owners regarding this invoicing is no longer available under legislation.”

What a baffling answer.

The rules have been clear for years. If you own the aircraft, you pay the registration fee and the participation levy. If you sell the aircraft, you pay the fee and the levy unless you have completed the change of ownership. It happens on July 1. Every year. Unless it is delayed by the CAA, in order to allow the imposition of a back-dated increase.

As for the “flexibility that we had in the past afforded to aircraft owners regarding this invoicing being no longer available under legislation” – what is the meaning of that? Flexibility is a word rarely used in the CAA lexicon.

♦ Who, and how many, were these allegedly confused owners?

♦ Are they flying unlawfully today?

♦ What has the CAA done about those owners who “didn’t even know they had an annual invoice“?

♦ Can the CAA identify the distressed and confused, and if so, why didn’t they just send that email to those firmly believed to be non compos mentis, instead of sending it to everyone?

♦ Does the CAA consider an aircraft owner who does not know these fees exist to be a fit and proper person to own an aircraft, let alone fly it?

♦ How much did this campaign cost?

♦ And has the CAA refined its IT systems since Ms Salote Raiwalui told us that its database could not be relied upon as a source of informing customers of the CAA price increase consultation process, by email?

♦ Will this form part of the Director’s cost-cutting agenda (hopefully, along with a reconsideration of the 2014 CAA Limited-Edition glossy Calendar budget)?

We’ll be asking the Director most of these questions, and he will reply in due course. But in the meantime…

By sending that email to all owners of registered aircraft, the CAA shows yet again that it operates under the Blunderbuss Principle, and pays little attention to reducing costs. If the CAA had a truly robust and reliable information system, it would know which owners failed to pay last year (and their excuses) and would have targeted them, without insulting the rest of its customer base. The Authority also knows full well the ancient legal principle that “ignorance is no defence”.

In judging the performance of a public service such as this one, discard any idea of improved Information Technology at the CAA and how it might help you. There is a more accurate measure of what goes on in such bleak places. It was stated by Thomas Gray (1716-1771): “Where ignorance is bliss, ’tis folly to be wise”.