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Investigation into employment of Madeleine Setchel

Investigation into Public Service recruitment and employment of Madeleine Setchell

The President of the Institute of Public Administration New Zealand (IPANZ), Ross Tanner, commented today on the issues raised by the reports from the State Services Commissioner and Mr Don Hunn into matters arising from the Public Service recruitment and employment of Madeleine Setchell.

IPANZ is a voluntary, non-profit organisation committed to promoting improvements in public policy and management in the public sector in New Zealand, and to increase public understanding of the work undertaken in the public sector. The Institute wrote a background paper and submission for Mr Hunn to assist him with his inquiry.

Mr Tanner commented that there were three key points made in the submission, which remain relevant:

1. “There is a balance to be found between the need for Ministers to be advised or consulted about certain employment matters, and the need to preserve the political neutrality of the Public Service

  • a Chief Executive must make the final call on public service employment matters

  • no one – including a Minister or political advisor in a Minister’s office – should directly or indirectly solicit or endeavour to influence a Chief Executive with respect to employment matters

  • if a Chief Executive requests it, a person – such as a Minister – may give information or advice, or make representations, to the Chief Executive in relation to employment matters.

The Chief Executive may in certain situations decide that he or she should ‘consult’ the Minister about an employment matter. If the Minister is consulted there will be a corresponding obligation for the Chief Executive to consider and take the Minister’s view into account in his/ her deliberation on the decision. The Chief Executive should initiate any such consultation and need to be clear of its purpose before doing so.

2. “Conflicts of interest will occur in the New Zealand context and will have to be managed appropriately in each case

It goes without saying that we are a small population and that the number of people who work in the Public service and the wider State Services are few. Conflicts of interest do and will occur frequently in our small community. They happen from time to time in terms of personal and family relationships. There is however a self- regulating ethos readily apparent in the Public Service whereby individual public servants (particularly in senior positions) maintain strict confidentiality and discretion in terms of their work and business dealings, keeping them very well protected and separated from their personal lives. This degree of trust in individuals needs to be reinforced (with appropriate publicity and training) but also respected. There is equally a danger in terms of being seen to overreact to particular incidents or situations. Above all there needs to be guidance both available and spoken about within departments to ensure that incoming staff understand and respect the required code of conduct.


3. “Any consultation with Ministers on an employment matter should be undertaken before the decision is taken, not afterwards

The consultation should be an opportunity to signal an intent about a possible course of action or likely decision, and be guided by an appreciation as to why the consultation is necessary. To try to fix a difficulty after a decision has been taken will inevitably put the Chief Executive in a difficult—even embarrassing—situation and will also likely affect the parties to the decision. That is exactly what occurred in the situation relating to Ms Setchell.

The Minister concerned may also be affected by poor or non-existent information and may act inappropriately, with implications for his/ her own position and reputation. That certainly appears to have happened in this particular case. There is therefore a need to restate for public service chief executives and also Ministers the available guidance on the subject and to remind them of the importance of anticipating, not having to respond after the event, to such issues”.

ENDS

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