There were two fraud cases before the Courts in New Zealand last month, both involving high flying women executives. The different ways in which each offender was dealt with says a lot about our civic institutions and soundly illustrates the suffocating effects of an engrained regimen of political correctness that ensures style succeeds over substance.
Lynn Fiebig was a socialite and failed restauranteur who was appointed fundraising manager at IHC, an organisation that advocates for and provides care to people with intellectual disabilities. During her tenure she stole $500,000 to fund her own lifestyle. She was sentenced to three years imprisonment for this crime. Mary Anne Thompson was a senior civil servant who fooled her peers into believing she had a PhD when she did not. Thompson’s only defence was that she thought the qualification had been awarded. She must have had a memory lapse because walking up on stage to collect your scroll is not something you forget in a hurry, I can assure you.
Thompson’s offence may seem trivial in the context of her 15 years of sterling service in our fine public sector, especially in light of the glowing epithets from figures such as the State Services head. But her offending resurfaced after another investigation into how she improperly handled an immigration application from a Kiribati based family member, whilst employed as head of the Immigration Service. Why did nobody smell the stench?
Thompson must have seemed like a god-send to the middle class, white, male elite that make up Wellington’s most senior mandarins and who were eager to promote diversity within the public service. They desperately wanted to believe, but unfortunately she led them on a merry dance, despite warnings from a human resources consultant who had twigged to the fraud early on. During the course of her employment under false pretences as a senior public servant, I estimate Thompson must have collected well over $2 million in salary. Last week she received a trivial fine of $10,000 after pleading guilty. Neither of the two women are likely to be in a position to repay what they owe to society; in fact there is every chance that Thompson will manage to resurrect her career eventually.
Perhaps the saddest aspect of these two cases is that it will make it just that much harder for genuinely qualified, intelligent and commited women to ascend to positions of responsibility in the public sector. It also reminds us how entirely subjective the justice system is when it comes to addressing white collar and non-violent crime.