www.mccully.co.nz - 22 August 2008
Court Leaves NZDF Questions Unanswered
There is something very very untidy at large amongst the senior ranks of our defence forces. This week a Court of Enquiry has released its report into the UN Housing Allowance rort fiasco. While it correctly finds that the four New Zealand officers seconded to the UN since 2001 were simply following instructions by claiming both the UN allowance and an NZDF top-up, it does little to explain how NZDF could have established a process directly at odds with UN rules. And it leaves very serious questions to be answered by some very senior people in our defence forces about their roles in this appalling affair.
As outlined in the July 4 edition of this newsletter, the UN made changes to its rules back in 2001. It became unlawful (in UN terms) for secondees to receive top-up payments of any sort from their own governments on top of the UN allowances and salaries. Yet, as the Court of Enquiry concluded this week, the NZDF arrangements specifically required staff seconded to the UN to claim the UN Housing Allowance and also receive a top-up payment from the NZDF: “Under this system the NZDF refunded rental costs up to a fixed ceiling, with the refund being reduced by the value of the UN Rental subsidy.”
But, the Court noted, this was in head-on
conflict with the UN rules:
“While this was in accordance with NZDF policy and procedures, it was not in accordance with UN requirements.”
Worse, to obtain the UN Housing Allowance, each of the officers was required to complete a declaration to the effect that they were receiving no payment from NZDF:
“Although the Court has not seen all of these documents, it is satisfied that all four officers either made false declarations to the UN regarding receipt of the NZDF accommodation assistance, or failed to advise their change of circumstances when they did receive it.”
Then the bombshell:
“Each of these officers state that they were reluctant to act in this way but that they acted under an honestly held belief that they were compelled to do so in order to comply with NZDF requirements.” Yes, for the last seven years, the most senior officers in the New Zealand Armed Forces have been instructing subordinates to make false declarations to the UN.
As so presciently forecast by this journal back in early July, the Court of Enquiry studiously avoids identifying those responsible for this fiasco. That is because they would need to identify the senior officers that appointed the Court in the first place. But that is not the worst feature of this matter.
A year ago, a Military Police officer was dispatched to New York to interview Colonel Selwyn Heaton, a NZDF officer seconded to the UN. A complaint had been received that Col Heaton was receiving both the UN Housing Allowance as well as an NZDF top-up. As we know from this week’s Court findings that was because Col Heaton and those who served before him had been instructed to do so.
So serious questions remain to be answered: like, what sort of gross incompetence at NZDF HQ would see Military Police dispatched to New York, and a senior officer of 38 years services ordered home to await Court Martial for following a procedure he was ordered to follow? And, once it was clear that it was NZDF that was at fault, what sort of leadership is it that allows military bureaucrats to go rummaging though hard drives and other records in order to try to find some alternative offences to take to Court Martial, in some foolish face-saving device?
There is the clearest of evidence that the rumour-mongering on the Heaton matter came from within NZDF (not Army). Someone clearly decided to try to bring matters to a head by feeding information to the UN. What sort of military discipline is that? And how is it that NZDF leaders have let this fester for over a year when it has been an open secret at NZDF HQ that their practices clearly breach the UN rules, and very senior officers have been asserting a need to deal with the matter?
It is clear that NZDF fundamentally failed to meet its obligations to inform its Minister. What sort of professionalism is it that has seen NZDF allow its Minister to appear before a Parliamentary select committee, knowing that the National Opposition had been asking questions about the issue, without briefing him? In any other government agency, such conduct would be considered intolerable.
Which ever way you look at it, the NZDF HQ performance over the UN Housing rort fiasco appears entirely shabby. Bearing in mind that this, ladies and gentlemen, is the organisation upon which we depend for our defence and security, it is nowhere near good enough.