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Department of Labour welcomes findings of SSC

MEDIA RELEASE
03 October 2008

Department of Labour welcomes findings of State Services Commission report


Department of Labour Chief Executive Christopher Blake is welcoming the findings of the State Services Commission report into the Department’s handling of matters relating to the family of the former head of Immigration New Zealand, Mary Anne Thompson.

“The State Services Commissioner has summarised the report’s outcomes well,” Mr Blake says. “There was inappropriate behaviour which was dealt with ineffectively, partly because Ms Thompson herself was not forthcoming about the extent of her involvement in her family’s immigration activities.

“I am heartened by the Commissioner’s support of our team, and the work already under way. I particularly want to note the emphasis he put on the professionalism and integrity of our staff generally. He sees this as a very solid foundation for the future of Immigration New Zealand.”

Mr Blake says the report represents an opportunity for the Department to draw a line under these past events and move on.

“The incidents outlined in the SSC report are historic and pre-date my arrival at the Department in October last year,” Mr Blake says.
“I want to take this opportunity to reiterate that the behaviour described in the report is completely unacceptable to me. As the SSC report indicates, the problems were caused at leadership level, but I am confident that we are making changes to improve our business and prevent a similar situation happening again.”

The State Services Commissioner has expressed his confidence in Christopher Blake to lead the Department of Labour forward.

Mr Blake says: “I am committed to improving the way we do our business across the Department of Labour. In particular, I am committed to turning Immigration New Zealand into a modern, world-leading immigration service through a comprehensive, integrated change programme. This sort of change takes time, but I’ve started.”

As part of this process there has been a change in leadership at Immigration New Zealand, which is part of the Department of Labour. Andrew Annakin took up the post of head of Immigration New Zealand in June on a nine month internal secondment. He has had an extensive public service career, with significant experience in managing service delivery and organisational change, as well as policy development and implementation. Christopher Blake says he has confidence in Mr Annakin to make the necessary changes so that Immigration New Zealand regains the trust and confidence of the public.

“I became aware of allegations about the processing of Pacific applications after becoming Chief Executive and in February decided to institute an independent review of the Department’s Pacific Division.

“This review is very important to the organisation and is designed to focus on finding durable, effective solutions to challenges that are unique to our organisation.”

The review is being carried out by Ernst & Young, who are expected to report back with recommendations later this month.

Mr Blake says the Ernst & Young review will complement the work done by both the State Services Commission and the Auditor-General.

“These reviews have placed a lot of pressure on many of the staff in the organisation but they’re important to ensure that we can learn from past mistakes and move on, ready to face the future, and do the best possible job for New Zealand,” Christopher Blake says.

Mr Blake says the Department has already begun to act on the recommendations made in the SSC report. “Work is already under way in a number of areas and staff in Immigration New Zealand have been reminded of the systems and processes in place for complaints to be fully and robustly investigated,” Mr Blake says.

“We know we have more work to do to help our people do their jobs effectively. The capability of the Department itself is a primary focus.”

--

Responses to SSC Recommendations: what the Department is doing in response to each of the specific recommendations

Recommendation One
That he gives consideration to systems and processes that may be put in place to ensure that integrity concerns arising in relation to Deputy Secretaries and other senior managers are fully and robustly investigated.

This Department takes integrity seriously. Judgement and discretion are its core operational assets. Conflicts of interest must be declared and managed. Complaints are fully and robustly investigated. We know our legitimacy depends on getting these things right. That is why this report is so important.

The Chief Executive has established a new Executive Branch to support the Chief Executive. The Internal Audit and investigations unit now reports to Executive Branch, closer to the Chief Executive. A new independent quality assurance process has been set up to boost independence by providing an external review of investigations.

The Chief Executive has also recently asked for assurance that the Internal Audit function is appropriately resourced, particularly around capability, capacity, and structure, given the size of the Department and the issues that need Internal Audit attention.

Managers and governance committee members declare and review any actual, potential or perceived conflicts of interest. This extends into procurement, governance and contracting.

A policy to prevent Fraud, Corruption and Dishonesty introduced in 2007 builds on integrity policies and the Code of Conduct.

Recommendation Two
That he develops guidelines setting out the principles that inform when it is appropriate to grant visa waivers. While the issuing of visa waivers is discretionary, and every instance of when and how this discretion will be exercised cannot be prescribed, such guidelines may assist with the consistent application of this discretion across the Department.

Work is in hand to address this recommendation by developing guidelines to go to the Minister for approval.

The Department has guidelines, standards and principles that ensure consistent application of discretion in granting or declining applications.
Training and on-going supervision is provided to ensure Immigration Officers’powers are exercised properly. In the vast majority of cases judgement and discretion is applied in an entirely professional and objective manner.

Recommendation Three
That he takes steps to investigate the apparent systemic issue of work permits being issued under a residual work permit policy many months before this policy came into effect.

Managers developed a practical response to deal with a particular situation. This was unsatisfactory. We have been reviewing this and preparing advice for the Government.

Recommendation Four
That he takes steps to ensure that no applicant still to be processed under the PAC Residual quota is disadvantaged by the fact that residency was granted to Ms Thompson’s family members contrary to policy.

The Department is providing advice to the Minister on options to ensure that no residual applicant is disadvantaged as a result of residence being approved for members of the former Deputy Secretary Workforce’s family.

Recommendation Five
That he arranges to undertake the in-depth investigation of the decisions where staff have entered “as instructed” (and other cases where they have refused to comply with requests by their manager to approve applications) that was originally recommended by Mr Oughton.

The use of the term “as instructed” or similar notations — properly documented — can simply reflect an appropriate and lawful process where a senior officer with delegated authority instructs a junior officer to proceed in a certain manner. Legitimate reasons exist for this judgement to be exercised.

Examples include humanitarian reasons and cases of likely benefit to New Zealand where policy requirements (such as medical or character) are not met.

But the notation may also indicate inappropriate management interference. That’s why the Department’s Internal Auditors are searching for entries in the Application Management System (AMS) relating to the relevant files. We are now looking into these cases to ensure they have been correctly processed.

Recommendation Six
That he reviews the action already taken to clarify delegations under immigration policy, and decides upon any additional action that may be required to address that issue.

The delegations that relate to immigration decision making are set out in the Immigration New Zealand Operational Manual. Delegations are held by warranted immigration officers who fill specified positions.

We accept that delegations must be clear and easily accessible. We are undertaking further work to ensure staff are aware of the extent of their delegations


Recommendation Seven
The work already commenced on reviewing and amplifying the relevant Code of Conduct expectations relevant to conflicts of interest and integrity matters should recommence, with a focus on clarifying expectations and processes around disclosure of integrity and conflicts of interest (particularly those involving senior staff); expectations in these areas for very senior managers and Strategic Leadership Team members; and confirming the right of Departmental solicitors when acting as witnesses or taking statutory declarations on departmental forms, to satisfy themselves that departmental policies have been complied with, where they perceive there is a risk they have not been.

We are recommencing work to review the Department’s Code of Conduct. Expectations of our staff have been clear at all times but the former Deputy Secretary breached those expectations. The Department will therefore continue to reinforce the Code of Conduct expectations.

Solicitors do not have an obligation to enquire into the circumstances relating to the creation of statutory declarations that they take. Their obligation is to ensure that the declaration meets legal requirements, but we are happy to actively affirm their right to raise such issues. In the particular instance the solicitor concerned questioned and escalated the matter.


Recommendation Eight
The Department has already commenced an independent review of the Protected Disclosures Act policy; this work should continue with consideration given to amendment of the policy if necessary, as well as considering whether work is needed to raise awareness of Departmental staff of the ability to make protected disclosures in certain circumstances and how to go about this.

An independent reviewer is currently carrying out a review of the Department’s Protected Disclosure process. The review began in May 2008 and is due for completion soon.
The purpose of this review is to ensure that the Department’s policies and procedures for the lodgement, management and investigation of protected disclosures conform to the requirements of the Protected Disclosures Act 2000 and to ensure proper management and control of any investigations that are undertaken.

Two of the objectives of the review are to:

* Review the DoL policies and procedures, and the governance arrangements for protected disclosures, against public sector best practice.

* Make recommendations for improving DoL policies and procedures for managing protected disclosures.


Recommendation Nine
This report sets out matters involving the actions and decisions of various NZIS staff. In some cases those actions have reflected high integrity and efforts to do the right thing in difficult circumstances. In other cases the actions may have fallen short of expected standards. It is for the Chief Executive of the Department of Labour to decide if any further action is required in terms of the latter category. I (David Shanks) am available to provide him with any briefing he may require to decide on such action.

The Chief Executive is now in receipt of the final report from SSC. He will assess all available material in the report to determine if any additional action is required. He will contact the SSC for a briefing on any additional information not covered in the report as necessary.


ENDS

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