$510,000 report on MFAT leaks: “strong suspicion,” but no one named

Scoop report by Hamish Cardwell


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An 18-month inquiry into leaks at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade (MFAT), released in Wellington today by State Services Commissioner Iain Rennie, has pointed the finger at a group of senior MFAT officials and a State Services Commission temporary clerical worker, but no one has been named.

The $510,00 inquiry by Paula Rebstock was to investigate the leak of confidential Cabinet documents on MFAT jobs cuts and restructuring to Labour MP Phil Goff and the media.

The clerical worker, who had previously worked in the Labour Party research unit, had been battling in court against the release of the report.

Iain Rennie, who ordered the investigation, said Ms Rebstock had a “strong suspicions” that a temporary clerical assistant working at the State Services Commission (SSC) leaked the three cabinet papers, but the investigation was unable to find “definitively” who was responsible.

Ms Rebstock’s view was that it was not appropriate to name the leaker because there was still an “degree of doubt” and because the individual was a junior staff member, Mr Rennie said.

A lack of forensic information was a cause of the doubt.

Mr Rennie said he was “extremely saddened” that the leak may have come from the SSC and that changes had been made to improve the way sensitive information was handled.

The report also found the conduct of senior “Tier 3” public servants at MFAT during the change process “fell below standards”, and that there was a perception put across by the group that it was acceptable to air opposition to the changes outside the department and for political purposes.

It was probable that MFAT staff leaked material to Phil Goff and the media.

Mr Rennie said he would not talk publicly about persons X,Y, and Z referred to in the report, nor whether he had talked to public sector Chief Executives about whether there they had since employed staff members who had leaked the report.

He understood the change process could be challenging for staff but he expected them to voice their concerns through the “proper channels”.

“Deliberately leaking information and working to undermine and publicly embarrass your Chief Executive is not appropriate and can never be justified.”

Under New Zealand’s system of Government it is vital that Cabinet be able to work in a secure and confident way. There was work being done to ensure secure handling of cabinet papers across the public sector.

He said he was not aware of any public sector Chief Executives taking disciplinary action at this time, but the report had only just been released.

The Rebstock report was itself leaked to the media yesterday.

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