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PSA Concerned About Managing Conflicts of Interest

PSA MEDIA RELEASE
November 14, 2007
For Immediate Use

PSA Concerned About Public Service Managers Ability To Handle Conflicts of Interest

The PSA welcomes the comprehensive reports issued today into the Madeleine Setchell case but remains concerned about the ability of public service managers to handle future cases involving potential conflicts of interest.

State Services Commissioner Dr Mark Prebble and a former commissioner Don Hunn, today released reports into the employment of Madeleine Setchell as a communications manager at the Environment Ministry. Ms Setchell lost her job because her partner is the press secretary of National Party leader, John Key, and this was seen as a conflict of interest.

"We welcome the reports because they acknowledge mistakes were made,"says Brenda Pilott, National Secretary of the PSA, which has 55,000 members working in the state sector. "We're also pleased that responsibility has been taken for these mistakes and that lessons have been learnt."

"We welcome the clear statement from the State Services Commissioner that public servants are able to express their political views and be politically active, but must keep their jobs and their politics separate."

Brenda Pilott says the PSA also welcomes the statement that the need for public service chief executives to keep Ministers informed does not override their responsibility to be a good employer and to handle employment matters with discretion.

"But the PSA remains concerned about how potential conflicts of interest, like the one that arose in the Setchell case, will be handled by public service managers in the future."

"We do not believe that all managers in the public service are capable of handling these matters which is why we believe the Commissioner needs to provide some practical and clear guidelines on how departments manage these situations," says Brenda Pilott.

For instance what should the procedure be when an applicant for a public service job declares a conflict of interest? Who does the interviewing panel refer the conflict to and what steps are then taken to resolve the matter?

"We also want Dr Prebble to state clearly that public service employers will not be required to establish formal registers of the political affiliations and activities of public servants," says Brenda Pilott. "His statement that the registers are "not a good idea" is not enough; he needs to make it clear that there will be no registers of this nature."

Brenda Pilott says the reports issued today and the Commissioner's statements still leave public servants and people considering a career in the public sector unclear about the impact declaring a potential conflict of interests will have on their future employment prospects.

"The commissioner needs to provide a clear assurance that declaring a potential conflict of interest will not result in a person being denied a job in the public service," says Brenda Pilott.

"Our concern is that people with the skills and experience the public service needs will be denied a job in the state sector or will be deterred from applying for a job because of their concerns about this issue."

ENDS

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