Ombudsman on MFAT leak inquiry

The Ombudsman has been scathing of an inquiry into leaks from MFAT and how the Government handled things, which seriously compromised the careers of MFAT employees.

Stuff: Damning inquiry points finger at the Government, State Services Commissioner

Ombudsman Ron Paterson has told the Government it should compensate a former top diplomat whose career ended in tatters after he was targeted by the inquiry, which was instigated by the State Services Commission.

He has also recommended a formal apology.

The 2013 inquiry has already cost taxpayers as much as $1 million, including lawyers costs and fees paid to the woman who headed it, Paula Rebstock.

The 2013 inquiry headed resulted in senior diplomats Derek Leask and Nigel Fyfe  being singled out , despite evidence the leaks that sparked it originated from within the State Services Commission itself. The person responsible cannot be identified because of suppression orders.

While they were not named in the State Services Commission-ordered inquiry, Leask and Fyfe were easily identifiable and their conduct was publicly  criticised by the State Services Commissioner and Foreign Affairs Minister Murray McCully after personal emails were published revealing their opposition to restructuring of the ministry.

Paterson says the SSC acted unreasonably during the inquiry  and pointed out flaws including:

* the findings in relation to Leask exceeded the inquiry’s terms of reference.

* Leask was not given fair notice prior to his interview that his conduct would be examined.

* Insufficient material was provided him about the applicable standards against which his behaviour was being measured

* He was not treated fairly.

* The evidence relied upon by the inquiry did not reasonably support some of the criticisms made about him in the final report and some highly relevant evidence was not properly addressed

* The manner in which Leaks’s actions were addressed in the final report was disproportionate when compared with the comments about the actions of other senior MFAT managers.

* Publication of the report, in a manner that identified him and contained unfair criticisms of him, was unjust

* State Services Commissioner Iain Rennie’s public statement about Leask was unreasonable.

Paterson recommends Leask receive compensation for harm to his reputation caused by the deficiencies in the inquiry and publication of the report.

This has raised serious questions.

Stuff: Top diplomat: Serious questions to be answered about the government’s misuse of power

Neil Walter, a former top diplomat, says serious questions are raised by the Ombudsman’s report into flawed government inquiry.

In the view of three Queen’s Counsel, the investigation team’s report was riddled with errors of fact and contained a number of accusations that had little connection with either the inquiry’s terms of reference or the evidence produced.

The Privacy Commissioner has separately ruled that Rennie breached the Privacy Act.

I expect more questions will be asked about all this. Serious questions need answers and appropriate remedies.

I think one thing in particular that needs to be addressed is the apparent propensity of the current Government to attack and discredit public servants and others to protect themselves, to divert from serious issues or to discredit arguments or evidence that is inconvenient to them.

Leave a comment

15 Comments

  1. Gezza

     /  24th June 2016

    Ian Rennie is a craven disgrace. that was clear early on after his appointment. His predecessor was no better. Successive governments have ensured that situation has continued ever since the Richardson Administration.

    Reply
    • Yes Gezza you have it in one (again!). I had just left MFAT when this all blew up and knew all of the people involved. The leaked papers were in fact leaked out of the SSC and Rennie has never been called to account for that! I am disturbed though that so many honourable people were damaged because of the ideological demands of the National Government and its determination to destroy the MFAT culture which had been built up over many years, and which had loyally served many Governments of all colours and fearlessly provided advice on policies which gained huge respect overseas. The concept of a neutral Public Service was thrown out with the bathwater so that ideologues could pursue their agenda.

      Reply
      • Gezza

         /  24th June 2016

        AFAIC, and I never actually worked there, MFAT is the department which has always set the standard for the rest, bj.

        Reply
  2. Dave Kennedy

     /  24th June 2016

    ‘I think one thing in particular that needs to be addressed is the apparent propensity of the current Government to attack and discredit public servants and others to protect themselves, to divert from serious issues or to discredit arguments or evidence that is inconvenient to them’

    Ha….they are all the same. I’ve got a Peter Doone and I’ll raise you a Madeleine Setchell

    Reply
    • Gezza

       /  24th June 2016

      Indeed. If they’re not just craven, they’re craven and incompetent.

      Reply
  3. Blazer

     /  24th June 2016

    Key has complete confidence in Rennie and Rebstock…quelle surprise!

    Reply
  4. Brown

     /  24th June 2016

    ”MFAT is the department which has always set the standard for the rest,”

    A friend who has dealings with these people says they are most arrogant and unpleasant people to deal with. There’s always two sides I guess.

    Reply
    • Gezza

       /  24th June 2016

      Yep, I guess. Mind you, it’s been 9 years since I last dealt with them, & the ravages of post-Douglas governments, Rennie, and Rennie-behavealikes have possibly meant some unfortunate changes of character. That sort of behaviour wasn’t the norm when we utilised their services. Quite the reverse.

      Reply
      • Gezza

         /  24th June 2016

        And just to be clear, what they set the standard for was their security, their clarity & their intellect, & their integrity.

        Reply
        • Gezza

           /  24th June 2016

          I’m hoping the Ombudsman’s report will be released though, as it hasn’t been so far, this may not be agreed to by the relevant parties. I would love to crawl through it looking for the real cockroaches in the whole sordid saga—starting at the beehive.

          Reply
  5. Joe Bloggs

     /  24th June 2016

    Meanwhile Rennie retires next week with a handsome golden handshake and Rebstock continues to clip the government ticket for thousands a day…

    Any likelihood that the government will seek compensation from these two for what they’ll cost us taxpayers in payouts to Leask and Fyfe? Fat chance.

    Reply
  6. unitedtribes2

     /  24th June 2016

    But did Leask Leak or not. That is the question

    Reply
    • UT, this is a very sensitive subject of which we should be careful what we say. I can say that there is no evidence of Leask dealing directly with Labour politicians, so to claim he leaked is fraught. He was accused of behaving unprofessionally because he contacted MFAT wives to defend the status quo and apparently enlisted retired eminent former MFAT leaders to also protect the status quo. This was regarded by Rennie as being against the SSC code of conduct for civil servants, and was the thrust of the argument in the inquiry. The culture I was imbued with in my 15 years with MFAT, was one of strict neutrality, and a duty to be fearless in providing advice to Ministers on matters of policy, so the best advice was available to the Government. It is actually vital for the integrity of policy formulation for those tenets to be defended at all cost.
      Brown, yes the Ministry had its share of pompous prats but so does all large organisations in NZ. I found however that invariably the leaders at the top were well rounded, highly intelligent and knowledgable leaders – both men and women. During policy formulation discussions, all sides were put on the table and thoroughly examined. The people that were recruited as diplomats came from the top graduates of our Universities, so they were equipped to examine problems and research situations with great care. They also hada huge facility to get on with people and this was demonstrated by their ability to fit into multiple culture in different countries throughout the world.
      That was my assessment anyway!

      Reply
  7. Off main topic, but it’s a bit rich For Ron Paterson to be making these comments about breach of personal rights.
    This from the former Health and Disability Commissioner who single handily removed heath consumer rights to protect health providers and professionals.
    Affectedly setting up a protection racket, making specific changes to the HDC Act which now results in over 99% of complaints blocked from ever being formally investigated. Made further changes to Heath Advocacy services to strip of independence and of legal support resources because apparently doing too good a job and need to be reined in in order to protect health providers. Changes not support by Salvation Army social services arm.
    So Derek Leask and Nigel Fyfe are up for compensation, millions spent in total for this saga. Boo hoo
    What about those who lives destroyed by Ron Paterson rulings. Blocked from receiving medical support, rights violated from medical fraud, malpractice covered up now not illegal and under HDC protection. All in order to save Govt health services costs. Lives have been lost.
    What about heath consumer right to quality of life, employment, support and build families blocked by Ron Paterson HDC rulings and well accepted understanding of HDC protect in place from heath consumer complaints rights.
    Evidence seen – Heath boards have openly gone on record to say they don’t have concerns about increase heath consumer complaints to HDC because so few are ever formally investigated.
    Evidence seen – corrupt and collusion – both ACC, HDC and medical council reduced numbers of heath consumer complains being submitted for formal investigation.

    Reply

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