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Disclosure of Information report released

Findings of the Investigation into The Possible Unauthorised Disclosure of Information Relating to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs And Trade

The State Services Commissioner, Iain Rennie, today released the findings into the unauthorised disclosure of information relating to restructuring plans at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade (MFAT) in 2012.

The Cabinet papers were provided in confidence to senior officials at MFAT, the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet, the State Services Commission, the Ministry of Justice, and the Treasury.

Key Findings

• Systems and processes for protecting sensitive information are highly variable between departments and need improvement.

• Ms Rebstock has reported a strong suspicion that the leak of the three Cabinet Committee papers was made by a temporary staff member working within the State Services Commission (SSC). The investigation was unable to find definitive evidence of who was responsible for the unauthorised disclosure of the Cabinet papers.

• The report has identified conduct by a group of senior public servants at MFAT during the change process that fell below the standards expected of people in their position.

• Specifically Ms Rebstock finds that the behaviour of some Tier 3 managers in MFAT created a perception in the department that it was acceptable for opposition to the proposed changes to be aired outside the department and used for political purposes.

• Ms Rebstock finds that two Tier 3 managers developed strategies to oppose the change proposals, and to disrupt or stop the change process outside of the staff-in-confidence consultation process.

• Ms Rebstock further considered it probable some MFAT staff leaked a variety of staff-in-confidence material to the Labour Party Spokesperson on Foreign Affairs and Trade, and to the media.

The person referred to as Person X in the report sought judicial review of the Inquiry’s findings where he was known as “Applicant A” and a suppression order was imposed by the High Court. That order prohibits publication of any details that might lead to X’s identification. The High Court has altered the suppression order so that details of his place of work at the time and his previous place of employment may be revealed. Other identifying details remain suppressed.

“I need to be able to assure Ministers, and any future Government, that confidential information will be protected and that Public Servants are trustworthy and will act with integrity,” Mr Rennie said.

In reference to the suspected involvement of a former SSC temporary staff member, Mr Rennie said he was “extremely saddened and disappointed” that the leak of the Cabinet papers may have come out of the Commission.

“I am proud of my team and the way they handle sensitive information with discretion and professionalism every day. If the leak came from within SSC then the individual who chose to behave like this has badly let down his colleagues,” Mr Rennie said.

“While I believe that SSC has generally robust systems in place to safeguard sensitive information, changes have been made to improve our work in this area. I am confident this has reduced the risk of an individual behaving like this again,” he said.

In addition to the handling of secure documents, Mr Rennie was particularly concerned about the behaviour and action of senior public servants within MFAT, while acknowledging that change processes can be challenging for all staff.

“I fully support public servants actively engaging with change processes. However, I expect that staff will engage with these processes through proper channels and will treat the process with respect and professionalism,” Mr Rennie said.

“Deliberately leaking information and working to undermine and publicly embarrass your Chief Executive is not appropriate and can never be justified.”

“Senior public servants are expected to act with a high level of integrity in the way they conduct themselves in undertaking their work. This includes acting responsibly and objectively at all times, “ he said.

“I intend to reiterate to Public Servants what their obligations are in relation to the handling of government information,

“I will also be discussing the findings and recommendations with Chief Executives so they can be considered with regard to processes for managing sensitive information and when planning any future change processes.”

The cost of the investigation and costs incurred by the Commission defending legal proceedings related to the investigation are $510,000.

The full report can be found at www.ssc.govt.nz/report-unauthorised-disclosure-mfat-papers


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