Damning inquiry points finger at the Government, State Services Commissioner

Outgoing State Services Commissioner Iain Rennie slated by Ombudsman
CAMERON BURNELL/FAIRFAX MEDIA

Outgoing State Services Commissioner Iain Rennie slated by Ombudsman

The Government has rejected parts of a damning report into its handling of an inquiry into leaks from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade.

Ombudsman Ron Paterson has told the Government it should compensate a former top diplomat whose career ended in tatters after he was targeted by the inquiry, which was instigated by the State Services Commission.

He has also recommended a formal apology.

The 2013 inquiry has already cost taxpayers as much as $1 million, including lawyers costs and fees paid to the woman who headed it, Paula Rebstock. 

READ MORE:
Probe to check if Rebstock inquiry fair
Govt defends Rebstock report
Diplomats reject Rebstock report findings 

 

 

State Services Commissioner Iain Rennie said on Thursday he did not agree with some of Paterson's findings and Foreign Affairs Minister Murray McCully stood by comments made at the time the inquiry was released.

McCully said the Ombudsman's review criticised the steps taken in assessing the responsibility of particular individuals for "some very unprofessional behaviour" - but did not dispute that those behaviours occurred.

"My statement, made at the time of the release of the Rebstock report, referred to unprofessional and disreputable conduct but did not name any individuals. My statement was undoubtedly correct."

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The 2013 inquiry headed resulted in senior diplomats Derek Leask and Nigel Fyfe  being singled out , despite evidence the leaks that sparked it originated from within the State Services Commission itself. The person responsible cannot be identified because of suppression orders.

While they were not named in the State Services Commission-ordered inquiry, Leask and Fyfe were easily identifiable and their conduct was publicly  criticised by the State Services Commissioner and Foreign Affairs Minister Murray McCully after personal emails were published revealing their opposition to restructuring of the ministry.

 

In his report, Paterson says the SSC acted unreasonably during the inquiry, and singled out flaws including 

* the findings in relation to Leask exceeded the inquiry's terms of reference.

* Leask was not given fair notice prior to his interview that his conduct would be examined.

* Insufficient material was provided him about the applicable standards against which his behaviour was being measured

* He was not treated fairly.

* The evidence relied upon by the inquiry did not reasonably support some of the criticisms made about him in the final report and some highly relevant evidence was not properly addressed

* The manner in which Leaks's actions were addressed in the final report was disproportionate when compared with the comments about the actions of other senior MFAT managers.

* Publication of the report, in a manner that identified him and contained unfair criticisms of him, was unjust

* State Services Commissioner Iain Rennie's public statement about Leask was unreasonable.

Paterson recommends Leask receive compensation for harm to his reputation caused by the deficiencies in the inquiry and publication of the report.

In a statement, Leask said the 2013 findings against him and other MFAT staff had been rubbished by the Ombudsman.

"It is good to have the slur on my reputation removed. Today's findings by the Ombudsman go beyond the vindication of my actions. The Ombudsman's report suggests that the 2012/2013 SSC investigation was out of control from start to finish."

Leask, a former deputy secretary of foreign affairs and New Zealand's high commissioner in London, said It was a matter of great public concern that the SSC acted in the way it did.

In a statement, Rennie said he did not agree with all elements of the Ombudsman's findings, in particular that in making findings relating to the investigation being outside its terms of reference.

But  he accepted that the way in which the investigation dealt with Leask "could have been better".

 - Stuff

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