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High standards expected of the public service

High standards expected of the public service

Labour Minister Margaret Wilson says the Department of Labour’s investigation into the management of information relating to Ahmed Zaoui correctly identifies the high standards expected of public servants.

The investigation has cleared Immigration Service staff of lying.

However, it raised issues about staff conduct and about the Department’s handling of Official Information Act requests.

Department of Labour chief executive James Buwalda has initiated disciplinary proceedings and a review of its guidelines relating to the management of official information.

Margaret Wilson, the Minister with overall responsibility for the Department, said the investigation and action taken as a result were appropriate, and would help maintain the public service’s reputation.

As a matter of urgency, the Department has initiated an internal review of its guidelines for responding to official information requests. The chief executive has made it clear that departmental managers are personally accountable for ensuring the guidelines are followed, and for ensuring staff understand their responsibilities under the Act.

“This particular case shows the far reach of the Official Information Act. In this instance it covered off-the-cuff remarks in an in-house email media log. Treating such logs as official information is a very high standard for public servants to maintain, but this Government believes high standards are necessary for a strong public service.

“There is no evidence that officials lied or conspired to deceive anyone. Nor did they deliberately shield themselves from scrutiny under the Official Information Act. Nevertheless the investigation found that the high standards expected were not met.

“Any individuals who appear to have breached the Department’s Code of Conduct will be subject to a disciplinary investigation. I will make no further comment on this, as it is a matter between employer and employee and fair process must be followed.

“The report shows the Department failed to meet its obligations under the Official Information Act. Record keeping must be improved and staff must understand what material is available under the Act.

“The Act is integral to an open democracy. The general rule is that information should be made available unless there is a good reason to withhold it, and the reasons for withholding information are set out in law.”

“The Immigration Service, like many government departments, is legally obliged to keep certain information confidential, but that obligation should not be used as a blanket excuse for not releasing information. Each request must be considered with proper regard to the law.”

The results of the investigation are available in a report posted on the Department of Labour’s website http:// http://www.dol.govt.nz

James Buwalda will hold a press conference at 11.30am this morning at the Department of Labour’s offices on the 6th floor at 56 The Terrace.

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