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Bigger picture is lost in Rebstock Report

Bigger picture is lost in Rebstock Report, diplomats did us proud

A former diplomat has spoken out to say the Rebstock Report misses the mark and its treatment of two former senior diplomats is unfair and unjust. She believes that the Report’s findings go against the public interest.

“The Rebstock Report is full of things that don’t matter and does not get to what really matters for New Zealanders. The key question is – why all the leaks and concerted opposition? The answer is – people saw something wrong. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade’s restructure and ‘change process’ got so many things wrong.” says Michelle Wanwimolruk, a former diplomat.

“I am also deeply concerned about the Report’s unnecessary focus on the actions of two esteemed former diplomats, Derek Leask and Nigel Fyfe. Rebstock’s Report found that they were not involved in any leaking. Yet the report has all this irrelevant information about them.

“The way that Derek Leask and Nigel Fyfe were treated and what they and their families have been subject to through the Rebstock Inquiry is shocking. It is unfair and unjust. Fyfe and Leask acted with great integrity throughout MFAT’s change process. They are men of great honour – people with a strong moral compass and who are loyal to the interests of New Zealand.”

“To see how Fyfe and Leask have been singled out is alarming. Do we live in a modern, accountable and transparent democracy or do we live in a state where dissenters will be hunted down and punished?”

The Rebstock Report accuses Leask and Fyfe of developing strategies to oppose the change proposals and to disrupt or halt the change process.

“Well, if that’s what they are accused of, then I along with about a hundred other people should also be accused. Many diplomats, Fyfe and Leask included, worked in various ways to stop proposals that would have destroyed the strength of New Zealand’s Foreign Service. Many of us took a principled position. A weakened Foreign Service is not in the best interests of New Zealand – a small country in a fast-changing world.

“As is often said ‘managers do things right, but leaders do the right thing’. Leask and Fyfe, as well as others, exhibited the qualities of real leadership. People who do the right thing in tough times. I’m pretty sure that many New Zealanders would be proud of the concerted efforts of many diplomats to save ‘the best little foreign service in the world’."

Background Notes:

The Report found that the cabinet paper leak was most likely from the State Services Commission, and pointed the finger at a temporary clerical worker.

Over $10 million was spent on the change process at MFAT. These exploding costs included change managers, change consultants, HR and IT professionals.

New Zealand has the fourth smallest diplomatic service in the OECD. But New Zealand is a country with one of the greatest diplomatic needs – geographic isolation, independent country with no groups to represent it overseas.

Michelle Wanwimolruk is currently working as an independent consultant and social entrepreneur. She joined MFAT in 2004 after completing her degrees in law and political studies. She resigned earlier this year to pursue other passions and interests in social change, family, community development.

Q: How long were you with MFAT and what did you do?
I was a career diplomat with MFAT from 2004 until my resignation earlier this year. I have worked in Wellington, New York and New Delhi, across a range of political, trade and economic issues.

Q: You said that “MFAT’s restructure and ‘change process’ was seriously wrong”. Why was it so wrong?
MFAT staff actually wanted change. There was a real appetite for change. They had been calling for MFAT’s modernization and change for years. The change process should have involved staff more from the start. It should have involved some of New Zealand's most strategic and talented people - our diplomats - in designing the change. The diplomats wanted to make change, meaningful change. If they had been involved at the start, rather than consulted at the end, the results would have been very different.


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