Secretary of Labour Accepts & Endorses Report
26 Feb 2004
Secretary of Labour Accepts & Endorses Ombudsman’s Report Recommendations
The Secretary of Labour, Dr James Buwalda, accepts the recommendations in the Ombudsman’s report into the actions of New Zealand Immigration Service staff over the release of official information and says they endorse the conclusions of his own investigation carried out last year.
Commenting on the Ombudsman’s report which was released today, Dr Buwalda said that he accepts that the New Zealand Immigration Service did not meet its obligations in dealing with official information requests in early 2003 relating to Mr Ahmed Zaoui. He says he has already put in place steps to rectify the systems and process failures which are the subject of the five main recommendations of the Ombudsman’s report.
“Following my internal investigation last year I actively addressed the issues that the Ombudsman has identified in this report as requiring action, namely:
- We are concluding a review of our guidelines for handling official information.
- Once this review is completed, ongoing training will be given to staff to ensure the guidelines are effectively applied.
- I have made it explicit to the Department’s managers that they must actively oversee the work of people involved in responding to Official information requests.
- Where classified information is involved, managers must ensure that people with the appropriate security clearance handle this.
- I have also made it clear to all staff that no inappropriate material should be included in any communications originating within this Department, and that Managers are responsible for monitoring this.
“The Ombudsman does, however, conclude that two officials failed in different ways to display the professionalism and diligence required of public servants.
While I had already initiated disciplinary proceedings and performance management action following my own investigation last year, I will now take the Ombudsman’s findings into consideration in determining what further action to take.”
“I have made it clear to all managers and staff of the Department of Labour that I will not tolerate any future unprofessional behaviour that risks compromising the Department’s ability to deserve and hold the respect of citizens”, Dr Buwalda said.
Questions and Answers
Q. Has the Department completed its review of OIA procedures and guidelines promised in August?
A. We have thoroughly reviewed existing processes in the Department, identified any gaps, problems and necessary areas for improvements, and taken immediate action where necessary. We are currently re-writing the Department’s Guide to Official Information Requests to reflect the review and take into account the Ombudsman’s report, and will consult with the Ombudsman on the draft when it is completed (likely early March). Staff handling OIA requests will get refresher training on the revised policies, and the policies will be promoted to all staff.
I have reminded all managers and staff of their responsibilities under the OI Act; and reiterated the starting premise that all information created in the Department is official information and should be made available unless there is a good reason to the contrary. I have also made it explicit to managers that they must actively oversee the work of people who respond to Official information requests
Q. Back in August, you said you would reinforce the message about maintaining high standards of conduct in DoL; hold managers accountable; and maintain effective processes for engagement with media. Have you done this ?
A. Yes. I have made all Leadership Team members clearly accountable for standards, behaviour and consistent application of policies, procedures and guidelines within their area. Managers are accountable for giving staff clear direction in these matters. This is monitored through the performance management process, with Leadership Team members reporting directly to me. All staff continue to be reminded of their personal responsibilities under codes of conduct, and their managers monitor this through regular performance management. This includes making clear to all staff that no inappropriate material should be included in any communications from the Department.
DoL engagement with the media has been maintained and strengthened where necessary. Several staff members work direct with media on a daily basis to cover enquiries and provide information on immigration, health and safety, employment relationships and labour market matters; and senior managers are available to provide comment when required.
Q. Can the Ombudsman rely on a ‘full & complete’ response from your Department in the future?
A. Yes. Department staff are clear that the Ombudsman is entitled to and must get complete co-operation and complete access to all material concerned. I have also made it clear to all managers and staff that I will not tolerate any future unprofessional behaviour that risks compromising the Department’s ability to deserve and hold the respect of citizens. This was an aberration – the Ombudsman has noted in his report the quality of the ongoing work from the Department. That said, there is no room for even occasional lapses.
Q. As recommended in the Ombudsman’s report, have you ensured there is ‘effective senior oversight’ in dealing with the Ombudsman’s Office over complaints on OIAs?
A. Yes. I have reminded all managers and staff of their responsibilities under the OI Act, and ensured managers actively oversee the work of people who respond to Official information requests. In addition, I am currently reviewing the Department’s Leadership team responsibilities. As part of that I am proposing to assign overall responsibility for Official Information to one member of the Leadership Team.
Q. Do Department staff still get media logs ? Is there now a full file of logs?
A. Yes. Relevant Department staff receive a daily ‘news roundup’, which is an important source of information for staff in New Zealand and overseas. The roundup summarises and highlights for busy people relevant issues affecting immigration locally and internationally, as reported by media. I have reminded staff that this material is always official information. There has been an explicit directive to management to ensure unnecessary and inappropriate material is not included in any communications, which must be consistent with Departmental standards.
Q. How do you now manage the process of security clearance ? Does every person who needs it now have security clearance?
A. All people dealing with information, including top secret information, hold a security clearance appropriate to their responsibilities. In practice this means that responsibility for dealing with the media about classified matters such as the arrival in New Zealand of a suspected terrorist, could only be given to someone with top secret security clearance.
Q. Are you taking further disciplinary action against anyone? Will anyone be fired as a result of this report?
A. As an employer, the standard I have to act upon in disciplinary matters is evidence. The Ombudsman has expressed adverse opinions about the professionalism and diligence of two staff. I will be taking his findings into consideration as I determine what further action to take.
Over the past six months I have addressed a range of management issues in response to matters considered in the Ombudsman’s report. I have paid particular attention to stating clearly my expectations about standards and conduct expected, and managers’ roles in upholding these standards.