COVID-19: Challenges of governing in lockdown

Woman in red jacket
Poto Williams

Poto Williams is learning to navigate the challenges and joys of working from home.

“My grandson likes to stop into my Zoom meetings to “wave to the people”, which sometimes includes the Prime Minister,” she said.

Ms Williams is the Member for Parliament for Christchurch East, Minister for the Community and Voluntary Sector, as well as the Associate Minister for Greater Christchurch Regeneration, Immigration and Social Development.

She is also a Southern Cross University graduate, having completed an MBA in 2010.

Wheels of state keep turning

Midway through the New Zealand four-week lockdown and a National State of Emergency, the wheels of state had to keep turning to ensure essential services and support were in place for the millions of Kiwis who’s work, education and other plans were disrupted.

At the time Ms Williams said: “In situations like this, and a ready example is the Christchurch Earthquake sequence, we take a civil defence response. However, with the added component of being unable to see our problem, the virus, typical responses are not appropriate.”

“Everything must be conducted through the lens of physical distancing and clinical integrity,” said Ms Williams.

“Critical responses are required, and quick decisions need to be made, in days or hours, rather than weeks. Being able to quickly read and digest advice, research and analyse options and be decisive…are the current ways of working. However, there is a risk lens applied to decisions we make and opportunities to revisit decisions and amend as needed.”

Ms Williams said the process is collaborative and efficient, utilising the skills of other Ministers as well as their assistance as sounding boards.

Speeding up communications

“The time we may have taken in travel, or attending events, or meeting with our community is now taken up with phones calls, online meetings, checking in with each and directing our officials to prepare papers for discussion and decision,” she said.

Zoom, Skype and other online meeting platforms allow for a round table meeting experience. Even Cabinet and meetings of the Executive are held this way.

“We have an Epidemic Response Select Committee that is meeting via Zoom and we are finding ways to do the sensitive and secure functions of our role,” said Ms Williams.

Community spirit

“Mostly, our people have responded by doing what is asked of them. Staying at home, only venturing out for groceries, medical appointments and to exercise locally, maintaining physical distancing requirements and washing their hands, frequently.”

Neighbourhoods have also responded by placing teddy bears in windows so children can go on bear hunts.

“We have just put pictures of Easter eggs in our window, so the children can now have an Easter egg hunt too.”

Ms Williams is harnessing the power of routines to stay focussed and motivated, while also finding time for pleasure. Her days are sometimes very long, finishing work at 11pm, but that’s not unusual for a parliamentarian and on the plus side, “these days it’s not too far to walk to my bed!”

Ms Williams signs off as she does on her Facebook live videos with “stay safe, stay well, be kind.”

“We will get through this and we will do it together.”