Labour question Ian Fletcher’s appointment

More questions have been asked about the appointment of Ian Fletcher as GCSB boss.

Grant Robertson has tweeted:

Grant Robertson@grantrobertson1 

This. PM’s friend not on shortlist for GCSB job, gets shoulder tap, and is only person interviewed. Cronyism.

He was referring to a Stuff item – Spy boss got job after call from PM  – where he is quoted:

Labour’s deputy leader, Grant Robertson, said the appointment process was “extraordinary” and “from left field”. In the past the position was filled by those with a military or intelligence background, he said.

“It is clear that the prime minister has intervened in this process to get his friend, Ian Fletcher, appointed,” Mr Robertson said.

“Given that there was a clear and identified potential conflict of interest, would it not have been proper to have interviewed a number of candidates for the job?

“The process around Ian Fletcher’s appointment is murky and fuels concerns that with National it is a case of jobs for their mates.”

I have asked Robertson if Fletcher’s suitability for the position is being questioned – it appears as if Robertson is just targeting the process.

I also asked “Or is Fletcher just possible collateral damage in @NZLabour versus @JohnKeyPM?”

So far no response.

Stuff also reported on the process.

The short list – drawn up by a recruitment company – was rejected by State Services Commissioner Iain Rennie.

It is understood that those on the original short list had years of military or intelligence experience.

Mr Key then contacted Mr Fletcher about the position.

Mr Fletcher was the only candidate to be interviewed for the position of director of the Government Communications Security Bureau.

Mr Rennie confirmed yesterday that he had rejected the short list. Mr Key said that after he and Mr Rennie “agreed to look elsewhere,” Mr Key phoned Mr Fletcher, who was working in Australia.“[Mr Key] said that if he was interested in the position of director, GCSB, he would need to go through a process and should call Maarten Wevers in the first instance,” the statement from Mr Key said. Sir Maarten was head of the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet at the time.

Mr Fletcher was the only candidate interviewed by a panel made up of Sir Maarten, defence secretary John McKinnon and deputy state services commissioner Helene Quilter.

Mr Rennie said the “panel was unanimous . . . that Mr Fletcher was suitable for appointment”.

Mr Key disclosed the links to Mr Rennie during the appointment process.

It is valid to raise eyeborws at the process of the appointment. So far that doesn’t raise any obvious alarm bells.

A former diplomat, Mr Fletcher was chief executive officer of Queensland’s Department of Employment, Economic Development and Innovation when he was appointed. A high-flier in the British civil service, he had also worked for the European Commission and the United Nations.

Mr Fletcher took up the job in February last year – just as the GCSB became aware it may have illegally spied on internet mogul Kim Dotcom.

The appointment has come under scrutiny since Mr Key revealed last week that he had been acquainted with Mr Fletcher since childhood. Their mothers were best friends.

But Mr Key also played down the contact he had had with Mr Fletcher in more recent years.

Mr Key says he and Mr Fletcher met a “couple of times” when Mr Fletcher was in Queensland and no more than a “handful” of occasions between the mid-2000s and his GCSB appointment.

Russel Norman has just been talking about it on Firstline – he said the appointment was fair.

Robertson is questioning whether an acquaintance of the Prime Minister should be appointed as spy boss. Right now he is on Firstline saying that surely other suitable candidates could have been found to interview.

Robertson keeps pushing the “appointment of mate” line. He also said the spy boss should be independent and trusted.

To be fully independent it would just about have to be someone from overseas who has had nothing prior to do with New Zealand, anyone in New Zealand with adequate credentials would likely be known by some politicians. As the saying goes, it’s a small country.

So far Fletcher’s competence has not been challenged.

Is Robertson unhappy with Fletcher Or is he expendable in order to score points against John Key? Does he want him to stand down?

David Farrar also comments on this on Kiwiblog:

I think it is unfortunate the Prime Minister phoned Ian Fletcher to suggest he applies. While he would not have got the job if he wasn’t qualified, a phone call from the PM soliciting the application would carry weight with the State Services Commission.

Fair comment. As Fletcher was an aquaintance perhaps Key (and his advisers) thought it made sense for him to contact Fletcher, but it could have been handled by someone else.

I think Ministers should generally be very wary of suggesting people for state sector roles. David Parker, as Environment Minister,  endorsed Clare Curran for a role with the Environment Ministry, which was heavily scrutinised.

Farrar fires a warning shot at Labour MPs who talk about cronyism.

And Grant Robertson could find criticisms like this can come back and bite MPs who later become Ministers who might get connected to appointments.

It can be difficult in Wellington to find suitable top level state employees who are unknown by anyone.

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2 Comments

  1. Darryl

     /  3rd April 2013

    Is Robertson unhappy with Fletcher? Who would know! Is he expendable in order to score points against John Key? = YES! Does he want him to stand down? Ask Mr Robertson, who seems hell bent on discrediting John Key, that is what this is all about. The Labour Party have double standards on everything!

    Reply
  2. WH

     /  3rd April 2013

    You would have thought the experience of the Prebble family (Mark and Richard) in reconciling public/personal roles and the ability of Mark to maintaining the confidence of Ministers of the day would be something Mr Roberston and Labour would be aware of.

    Knowing that Grant Roberston is capable and smart (and a former public servant) he will be more than well aware of this, which suggests that Labour is still determined to attack John Key at every opportunity to try and dent his popularity. Its a bit like a gambler on a losing streak doubling there next bet after having already lost their shirt. Labour does not give the appearance of having realised that John Key is not their problem.

    Reply

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