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Bradford Announces New NZQA Chairman and Review

MEDIA RELEASE

16 June 1999

Bradford Announces New NZQA Chairman and Audit Office Review

The Minister for Tertiary Education, Max Bradford, today announced he had accepted the resignation of New Zealand Qualifications Authority (NZQA) board chairman Sir Neil Waters.

"Sir Neil has guided the NZQA through a difficult period and has made a valued contribution to the development of qualifications policy in New Zealand. Sir Neil did not wish to extend his term as chair when it expires at the end of this month.

"I am recommending the appointment of Lincoln University Vice-Chancellor Dr Frank Wood as his replacement," Mr Bradford said.

Mr Bradford said he was first advised of questions over the authorisation of some NZQA expenditure last week when he was in Washington DC.

"I immediately requested that reports from the NZQA, Ministry of Education, State Services Commission and the Audit Office be available for me on my return to New Zealand on Saturday.

"Having read the reports, there were matters with which I was not satisfied as responsible Minister.

"To ensure that proper governance and management procedures are in place in the NZQA, I have taken a number of steps which I am initiating today.

- "I have asked the State Services Commission to review the employment contract, including the terms of severance contained in it, that the NZQA Board negotiated with former chief executive Dr Douglas Blackmur and to confirm that due process was followed.

- "I am also seeking a Crown Law opinion as to whether the termination of Dr Blackmur's contract and the payment he consequently received conformed to the letter of the law.

- "Finally, I have asked the Auditor-General to review in greater depth the authorisation of and accountability for travel, accommodation and entertainment expenditure." These issues were raised in the interim annual audit letter which was sent to the board on May 28.

"It appears from the interim audit letter that there are some things we need to get to the bottom of, although I would have to say that based on the evidence I have seen so far the matters seem to be largely procedural.

"The NZQA board and relevant departments are taking appropriate action to resolve these.

"Nevertheless, I want a thorough review so the public can have confidence that taxpayers' money has been expended properly and that proper approval procedures are in place."

Mr Bradford said he did not know the size of Dr Blackmur's severance payment, which was the subject of a confidentiality agreement.

He had also been advised that even if he had this information, he should not release it at this stage while the Crown Law Office was examining Dr Blackmur's contract.

END

Background Information

What is NZQA?

NZQA is an Education Crown Entity, established under the Education Act 1989. It has a Board of 8-10 members and a chairperson appointed by the Minister for Tertiary Education. Board members are appointed following consultation with industry, the professions and the compulsory and post-compulsory education sectors.

The key functions of NZQA are to: offer advice on all matters relating to qualifications; coordinate all national qualifications in secondary and post-compulsory education; ensure reciprocal recognition of New Zealand qualifications by overseas authorities and to administer national examinations.

Under the reforms announced in the Tertiary White Paper the focus of NZQA would shift from policy and operational advice to providing a quality validation service. It would continue to be responsible for administering national examinations.

What powers does the Minister have in relation to NZQA?

The Minister appoints members of the NZQA Board, consults with the Board on strategic direction and corporate objectives and monitors the performance of the Board.

Who appoints the Chief Executive of NZQA?

The NZQA Board appoint the Chief Executive on terms and conditions agreed by the Authority and the person appointed. The Board must consult the State Services Commission (SSC) on the Chief Executive's terms and conditions and have regard to the recommendations the SSC makes about these within a reasonable time frame.

How long was Dr Blackmur Chief Executive of NZQA?

Dr Blackmur was appointed Chief Executive of NZQA in February 1997, he resigned effective from midnight 31 May 1999. In his absence, the NZQA Board has appointed its Deputy Chairperson, Mr David Moloney, to act as Chief Executive until a permanent replacement is found.

Why did Dr Blackmur leave NZQA?

Dr Blackmur tendered his resignation to the Board of NZQA on 19 May 1999. He indicated that the task he had expected to do when he took up the post was no longer what was asked of him, and he considered that he did not have the skill set for the proposed new role.

What was Dr Blackmur's remuneration package?

Dr Blackmur's remuneration package was negotiated between him and the NZQA Board and is subject to a confidentiality agreement between both parties. His remuneration package as disclosed in the 1997/98 NZQA Annual Report was in a band of $200,000- $210,000 per annum.

Why is the State Services Commission reviewing his employment contract?

It is important to ensure that public servants receive salary and conditions commensurate with their skills and experience and with the job to be undertaken. Appropriate relativities also need to be maintained both within the public sector and between the public and private sector. The Minister has asked the SSC to check that the terms and conditions negotiated between Dr Blackmur and the NZQA Board were reasonable in light of these factors and established government policy and principles.

Did Dr Blackmur receive any payment from NZQA when he resigned?

Upon his departure from NZQA, Dr Blackmur received a final payment agreed between himself and the Qualifications Authority's Board. This payment was subject to a written confidentiality agreement. Mr Bradford does not know the amount and has been advised that even if he did he should not release it while the Crown Law Office is examining Dr Blackmur's contract. Crown Law has been asked to provide an opinion on the legality of the payment in terms of Dr Blackmur's contract to ensure that the NZQA Board properly disbursed taxpayer's funds.

What travel was undertaken by the former CE of NZQA?

During his tenure at NZQA Dr Blackmur took 15 overseas trips worth over $46,000.

Why is the Office of the Auditor General reviewing the NZQA's discretionary expenditure systems?

During the interim audit several concerns over travel and other discretionary expenditure were raised, and the processes and procedures in respect of authorisation and approval came in for criticism in the interim audit letter. These matters were raised with the Board, who have asked the Auditor-General to carry out further audit work in this area. It is important to check that all travel and expenditure was correctly authorised by the NZQA Board and accounted for by the former Chief Executive. The Minister expects to receive the Auditor General's report on NZQA's financial management systems by 31 July 1999.

Ends.

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