I’m not a fan of resignations every time a politician or public servant is accused of making a mistake. If all calls for resignations were heeded we would have a gutted and paralysed democracy.
There were predictable calls for the Prime Minister’s chief executive, Andrew Kibblewhite, to resign over failing to advise the Prime Minister or the public about the sending of the contents of emails between Peter Dunne and Andrea Vance to the Henry inquiry without authorisation.
Kibblewhite has apologised and offered his resignation, but Key hasn’t accepted it. NZ Herald reports:
The Prime Minister’s chief public servant, Andrew Kibblewhite, offered his resignation to John Key for breaching the no-surprises rule in matters crucial to the David Henry inquiry, but it was rejected.
Mr Kibblewhite, however, has apologised to Mr Key for failing to tell him that the content of emails between United Future leader Peter Dunne and reporter Andrea Vance had been sent to the Henry inquiry into the leak of a report into the Government Communications Security Bureau spy agency.
“It was implicit in the conversation he was having with me that if I wanted his resignation it would have been there,” Mr Key said at his post-Cabinet press conference yesterday. “I certainly wouldn’t accept his resignation.”
An apology and acknowledgement of a serious mistake at least.
Mr Key found out last Friday that the inquiry had been sent email content; Mr Kibblewhite, chief executive of the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet, knew about it for about a month.
Mr Key said Mr Kibblewhite should have put what he knew in the public domain several weeks ago, when it became clear that the Speaker, David Carter, had to correct answers previously given to him from Parliamentary Service about Andrea Vance’s phone records not going to the inquiry when they had.
It seriously embarrassed David Carter, and was a major failure to disclose.
“In his defence, he was on bereavement leave,” said Mr Key.
“It was a very challenging set of circumstances for him but nevertheless that information should have been out in the public domain.”
Sympathies for the bereavement, that can be a difficult time, but that is a poor excuse from the Prime Minister. A highly paid ($600k apparently) high level public servant should be able to manage their responsibilities alongside personal issues.
The maximum bereavement leave I can get in my day job is 3 days. Kibblewhite tried to hide this information for about 30 days.
Mr Dunne was forced to resign as a minister because he refused permission to hand over the contents of his emails.
And Mr Dunne is understandable fuming over this.
David Henry sought permission from Mr Dunne for access to the email content but did not mention they had already been sent.
They were apparently not opened because the email system the inquiry used could not open the personal storage files sent from the Parliamentary Service Outlook system.
Mr Key said Mr Kibblewhite took the view that because Mr Dunne’s email content was never opened or seen, it did not form part of the inquiry. “I think that is a very narrow definition but it is looking at it from a bureaucracy perspective, not looking at it from a political perspective.”
A very narrow definition? Or a cover up? In any case it was a bureaucratic blunder. The emails were requested on a Monday and obtained on the Wednesday.
On Thursday morning the Henry inquiry said they couldn’t open the emails – they must have tried.
There are claims that the email containing the emails was recalled within an hour.
But an hour later discussing obtaining the required authorisation and still discussing how to access the emails.
And remarkably discussing getting the required permission.
If they weren’t so incompetent at opening the email file that was sent they would have accessed the emails, there was clear intent to do this - and clearly they were seeking permission after the fact, unsure if they would get that authority.
Kibblewhite has apologised for not advising of the sending of the email contents, but there were also seriously lax procedural problems.
The Prime Minister should ensure (and be seen to be ensuring) that such proper procedures are followed in inquiries initiated by him.
The Prime Minister has refused to apologise “because it wasn’t his fault” (according to 3 News on Firstline as I type this). And he has refused the resignation of his chief executive who offered to accept responsibility.
John Key is reinforcing an impression that he can be authoritarian without caring about proper procedures – cowboy politics, where the power of his position rules.
And remember that Andrea Vance was not even considered in any discussions of permission or propriety. There is major angst over this amongst journalists about this, and Key has suffered much direct indignation. He is likely to also suffer from a less sympathetic media, and that could turn out to be costly.
Key’s arrogance, excuses and refusal to accept responsibility are eroding his credibility. He may not care as it will probably be just a little slip. But he will care when his accumulated slips reach a tipping point in voter tolerance. And when that hits him the media won’t help.
UPDATE: Key is just talking about this on Firstline, still playing down the severity of the problem, saying that while the emails were sent they were recalled within an hour. The above shows there was more going on after the hour (whenever that was).
He has repeated that while an apology is appropriate, not from him, from Parliamentary Services and the Speaker.
It’s not a lot more complex than “yeah, they made a mistake”.
It wasn’t just a mistake. It was blatant disregard for proper process.
And the repercussions could be far more complex for Key than he realises.
Stuff have been running an online poll – yes, online polls should be viewed with caution, but there must be some here who have indicated a genuine lack of confidence in Key:
How is the prime minister handling the Parliamentary phone records scandal?
- Well – 368 votes, 8.7%
- Badly – 3016 votes, 71.5%
- It’s more a Parliamentary Service issue – 453 votes, 10.7%
- Don’t really care – 384 votes, 9.1%