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Bradford Releases 'Disappointing' NZQA Reviews

Tertiary Education Minister, Max Bradford today released the results of the three reviews he had requested into the New Zealand Qualifications Authority (NZQA).

"The reports make very disappointing reading. They indicate that there were significant shortcomings in some aspects of the former NZQA Board's oversight of the Authority", said Mr Bradford.

"While internal staff management and controls were generally appropriate, the Auditor-General's report found that the policies of the Board were not as clear and comprehensive as they should have been. The Auditor-General further commented that the quality of oversight of the Chief Executive by the Chairperson and the Board was lacking."

Mr Bradford said that the State Services Commission (SSC) report had also highlighted deficiencies in governance by the Board, particularly by the former Chairman, Sir Neil Waters.

"Of particular concern to me is the consultation on former Chief Executive, Dr Douglas Blackmur's contract by the Board, which was clearly inadequate. The SSC has reported that there were a number of provisions in Dr Blackmur's contract that appear to have been settled without the Commission being consulted and that Dr Blackmur's remuneration package was well in excess of State Sector norms.

"The Board made a termination payment to Dr Blackmur pursuant to a clause in his contract. The payment made exceeded the entitlement under the clause as Dr Blackmur was paid three months' notice in addition. I understand that the total payment was around $160,000 (before tax) and relocation costs. I am appalled that the Board did not take legal advice before making such a payment.

"Furthermore, while the Board and Dr Blackmur maintain that the termination clause was lawfully invoked, I accept the Crown Law Office's advice that the factual grounds necessary as a precondition before either party might invoke the clause did not exist," said Mr Bradford.

Mr Bradford said that he had sought a further Crown Law opinion on the options open to recover the termination payment.

"The advice I have received indicates that legal action would be expensive and have a small chance of success. While the information available provides evidence of poor judgment, this in itself does not constitute sufficient grounds for legal action, as bizarre as that might sound. I am not prepared to expend further taxpayer dollars on litigation that is unlikely to succeed," he said.

"As a man of integrity, Dr Blackmur should voluntarily refund to New Zealand taxpayers the excessive, if not illegal, payments without the unnecessary expense of legal fees to either himself or the New Zealand Government."

Mr Bradford said that the Crown Entities initiative announced by the Government on 15 July would reduce the likelihood of further cases like Dr Blackmur's contract, by providing model contracts, prescribing consultation requirements and requiring publication of information on Chief Executive remuneration and termination payments.

He said there had also been significant changes within the NZQA since June that would ensure proper accountability and a more strategic focus for the future.

"A new Chairperson and three new board members have been appointed. A further member will be appointed shortly. The Board has considered the Auditor-General's report and put in place new policies and procedures to ensure closer scrutiny of Chief Executive and staff expenditure, including travel, and use of credit cards. A new Chief Executive has also been appointed," said Mr Bradford.

"The NZQA has many dedicated staff, who should not be penalised for the actions over which they had no control. I have no wish to penalise the Authority in this time of stress, especially as there is a new Chair and new Board members. Rather my hope now is that the Board and the NZQA can get on with the job of delivering high quality qualifications and quality assurance."


ENDS

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