A former diplomat, head of mission and senior manager at MFAT has spoken out about the just-released report on restructuring at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade (MFAT). He disputes conclusions in the report relating to him, and criticises the handling of the investigation.
He is identified as “Person Z” in the report. He said he had no choice but to comment on the report given remarks made in the media.
He said that the investigation’s findings about the actions of a range of so-called third tier managers had little or nothing to do with the leaking of documents. They were no more than the investigation’s views or interpretations about MFAT management practice. “My own views and interpretations are very different. I simply do not accept the validity of the findings against me and some of my former colleagues. And neither will many others with long and deep involvement in MFAT and elsewhere in the Public Service.”
Cabinet and other documents about major restructuring and staff cuts at MFAT were leaked in the first half of 2012. The State Services Commission established an investigation into the leaks led by Paula Rebstock.
“Person Z” said “My approach throughout the change process was to get significant improvements to the outcome and I worked with colleagues to achieve this. The MFAT Secretary acknowledged that the robust debate had helped to achieve this. And I wasn’t the only person concerned by the change proposals – the PM and Foreign Minister also expressed concerns.
“As for the emails published in the report, these were private communications between colleagues – like water-cooler conversations in an office – except we were in different parts of the world.
“This was an investigation that misunderstood the MFAT change process. Challenging the senior management is not undermining it – it is part of the process. Our concerns were underpinned by loyalty to MFAT and NZ’s interests.”
He was surprised and disappointed by the decision of the State Services Commissioner to publish the section on third tier managers. “My Counsel had given him what we saw as ample evidence that important corrections were required to the Final Report given to him by the Investigation. My Counsel has lodged a formal complaint with the Privacy Commission.
“We pointed out for example that Finding D implied that I had not maintained political neutrality. I argued that this was not accurate and that the finding should be deleted. As someone who was a serious public servant for over 40 years I find the publication of this finding insulting and I believe it is defamatory.”
He said that he had also provided to the Investigation and to the State Services Commission his disagreement with the investigation’s claims that he and others had disregarded instructions from the MFAT CEO. “I saw this as being based on an incorrect interpretation of emails from the CEO. My view is backed up by an expert witness. And I most certainly object to a view that those of us in MFAT who sent direct communications to the CEO were somehow in breach of the State Services Commission code of conduct.”
“Person Z” said that he disagreed further with the investigation’s conclusion that a High Commissioner’s sharing of his analysis of MFAT change with the Minister of Foreign Affairs and the Chief Executive of the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet is against the rules. “The last thing we want is policy silos.”
He also quoted written advice received in November from his Counsel, a senior Wellington QC, that “the content of the Report in relation to you is in my opinion quite unfair from a legal perspective. Particularly serious is the failure to weigh adequately the expert evidence of two former and very senior public servants.”
As for the handling of the Investigation, “Person Z” said that his Counsel had written several times in the course of this year to the State Services Commissioner on the handling of the investigation. He had raised particular concerns about the handling of matters of natural justice, but also about the setting up of the Investigation, its terms of reference and its long and drawn out processes.
He said that he had found it particularly difficult to deal over 18 months with a series of four different accusations. Accusations were made, they were strongly disputed by him and by Counsel, and then they would apparently be shelved only to be replaced by others.
In conclusion he said “I saw the change proposals put forward in February 2012 as seriously flawed. My concern about the proposals was widely shared including by 49 Heads of Mission, Ministers, and many current and former senior MFAT staff. I told the Investigation time and again that I was fully entitled to work openly with colleagues (and without ever having my views become public) to ensure that relevant analysis and arguments and points of view were brought to bear during the consultation period. The CEO wrote afterwards that the robust debate had led to an improved outcome.
“The investigation should have stuck with its central purpose – finding out who leaked government papers and why. In my view, the whole section on third tier managers is all but irrelevant to that central purpose and without merit.”