Prime Minister John Key and his staff have stepped in to take a hands-on role in restructuring the Foreign Affairs Ministry after its chief executive, John Allen, faced a top-level grilling behind closed doors.
Mr Key confirmed that a Cabinet committee meeting last week attended by himself, Finance Minister Bill English and the heads of the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet and State Services Commission grilled Mr Allen over the plan.
He also said that the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet was now in charge of ensuring the plan did not jeopardise the Government's "NZ Inc" approach to the country's international footprint - an admission that could suggest Mr Allen has been sidelined.
Mr Key said DPMC was "looking at the overall [plan] just to head check everything and make sure changes, when they finally go through, are most appropriate".
"In terms of the first round of the proposed changes, we as a Cabinet were not fully sighted on those changes. We had some idea of one or two but not the vast bulk."
Three government agencies - DPMC, Treasury and the State Services Commission - are now involved in the discussions over the ministry.
DPMC's new hands-on role could be an acknowledgement that the Government does not want to be further embarrassed over the ministry, which has seen an exodus of top staff and been dogged by leaks for months.
Mr Key said the latest leak, to Labour MP Phil Goff, involved a Cabinet document that only about 20 people had access to. That leak is now under investigation.
Mr Key refused to directly criticise Mr Allen yesterday, but confirmed he had been questioned over some aspects of his plan. He singled out the plan to outsource some consular services, which "to us didn't seem to make sense".
Foreign Affairs Minister Murray McCully has already over- ridden the most contentious components of Mr Allen's restructuring proposal, including plans to slash allowances and remuneration, make 600 staff reapply for their positions and outsource consular services.
It is understood that Mr McCully lodged concerns with the State Services Commission over the shape of the restructuring proposal, both before it was put to Mr Allen by staff and afterward.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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