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‘Dumb decisions made’ in Wilce affair

‘Dumb decisions made’ in Wilce affair – Defence Chief


UPDATE, 2:50pm: Defence Minister Wayne Mapp is refusing to comment on reports the NZDF's recruitment policies became even more relaxed after Stephen Wilce's appointment.

The Court of Inquiry report released Thursday revealed the defence force's human resources policy for hiring civilian staff actually dropped its requirements for reference and qualifications checks sometime after 2005.

The current human resources policy also only requires limited background checks, the report said.

A source within the New Zealand Defence Force told Scoop the terms of the guiding document, Defence Force Order 16, had become "less prescriptive", but said they had no idea why.

Mapp's office originally referred all questions to Chief of Defence Jerry Mateparae and the minister declined to say whether he had sought or received an explanation as to why the requirements were dropped.

Mapp also declined to say whether he thought the defence force should continue to outsource its recruitment processes, saying it was an operational matter.

"I expect the NZDF to carry out the proper checks when recruiting civilian staff, and for the recommendations of the Court of Inquiry to be followed," he said.

"The NZDF has commenced a review of its current civilian recruitment policies and procedures to ensure that both the policy and the recruitment procedures for such appointments are up-to-date, robust, appropriate and fit-for-purpose.

"This is expected to be completed within the next six weeks."

UPDATE, 10:56am 29 October: A senior defence source says top officials still have "no idea" why recruitment policies became even more relaxed after Stephen Wilce's appointment.

The Court of Inquiry report released Thursday revealed the defence force's human resources policy for hiring civilian staff actually dropped its requirements for reference and qualifications checks sometime after 2005.

The current human resources policy also only requires limited background checks, the report said.

A source within the New Zealand Defence Force confirmed the terms of the guiding document, Defence Force Order 16, had become "less prescriptive", but had no idea why.

EARLIER: New Zealand’s chief of defence says “dumb decisions” were made in appointing a former general manager of a kitset home company to head the country’s defence technology agency, ignoring complaints about the candidate even before the man began his employment.

[A Court of Inquiry report released Thursday (press release) & (full pdf report)] brought to light new information about the appointment of Stephen Wilce as director of the New Zealand Defence Force’s Defence Technology Agency in July 2005.

Wilce resigned in September this year after a 60 Minutes investigation revealed Wilce had repeatedly lied and exaggerated to other staff about his accomplishments, including claims he had been on the British Olympic bobsled team and held a Masters’ degree in astrophysics.

The report says two witnesses told the Court they had approached defence personnel and the New Zealand Security Intelligence Service with concerns about Wilce as soon as his appointment was announced.

One of the witnesses said his daughter, a major, had passed his concerns on to senior defence staff – but one of the officials she contacted told the court he only vaguely recalled the discussion and could not recall any action taken.

The other official said he did not recall any conversation with the witness specifically, but a woman had told him Mr Wilce had made an “exorbitant claim” about being decorated for bravery.

But these concerns were never put in writing, he said.

Both witnesses said they had rung the NZSIS directly to express concerns about Wilce, but intelligence officials told the court they had been unable to find any record of those conversations.

Once Wilce began working at the agency his tall stories quickly became “part of the lunchroom gossip”, the report said.

The revelations have been a public embarrassment for the country’s defence force, raising serious questions about its internal complaints process and hiring policies.

Chief of Defence Lieutenant General Jerry Mateparae told reporters Thursday Wilce’s actions had damaged morale at the Defence Technology Agency and hurt the defence force’s reputation.

But he could not say whether other, similar complaints had been investigated appropriately.

“I cannot answer unequivocally whether another Stephen Wilce is in the NZDF… I can say our processes – used properly – have been successful.

“There were some dumb decisions made, but people are people.”

Mateparae said the affair had highlighted poor performance in the defence force’s recruitment process and its response to concerns raised.

He said he accepted the court’s findings and directed that changes based on its recommendations be made immediately.

But despite the scandal, the general said there would be no legal action against Wilce or Momentum Consulting, the recruitment firm which vetted him.

The Court of Inquiry found Wilce had misled and embellished on his CV, but most of his representations to the hiring panel were lies by omission.

As Wilce was no longer employed by the agency he could not be prosecuted.

The Court found Momentum did not meet the “higher standard of thoroughness required by its contract with the Crown”, but did not have jurisdiction to determine a breach of contract.

Mateparae said Momentum had received $70,000 for the Wilce contract but the NZDF would not seek to recoup the money.

Momentum had met its contractual obligations to check Wilce’s referees, he said.

ENDS

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