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Public servants’ balancing act

August 4, 2004

Public servants’ balancing act

Public servants have the right to participate as citizens in an open, democratic society, PSA national secretary Brenda Pilott said today.

“PSA members have often been at the forefront of movements for social change, and have a keen interest in the issues facing New Zealand. We believe, however, that the right to participate must be balanced with the particular employment obligations which cover public servants.”

The responsibility of public servant obligations with the right to freedom of speech and to be involved in political activity is a balancing act that all public servants face, she said.

“In the vast majority of cases, people work it out by themselves or with the guidance of their department or the State Services Commission.”

Brenda Pilott said the PSA strongly supports the concept of a politically neutral public service and felt confident that the State Services Commission guidelines on political neutrality were reasonable, and provided public servants with adequate guidance when making decisions on this issue.

“All public servants operate within the State Services Commission framework as they are bound to through the Code of Conduct. Some public servants who are Maori, especially those in senior roles, may face additional dilemmas and have to exercise considerable judgement about their work duties if they have leadership roles within their iwi structure.”

Brenda Pilott said the issue was not really about political activity as such.

“No doubt there are public servants who are members of every political party, as they are entitled to be, and we strongly support their right to be. Issues only arise when political activity and political neutrality collide.

“This arises mainly for senior public servants, especially those who work in close contact with ministers. Exercise of judgement is what being a senior public servant is all about.”


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