18 August 2007

What is serious misconduct?

Simon Murdoch, CEO of Foreign Affairs, has been let off with an apology for embarrassing the Government over charter flights by Air NZ to carry Australian soldiers to Kuwait (from which destination they were probably to be deployed in Iraq). Murdoch should have advised his Minister, and even the PM, over the possibility of an Air NZ charter flight when it was first suggested informally by Air NZ. Given Murdoch's otherwise good record, and his admission of responsibility, this is probably as far as the matter should go, regarding his employment. Compare that, though, with Auckland University's decision to sack Paul Buchanan over one email that caused offense to a student, a mistake for which he too accepted responsibility and apologised... Was that a case of serious misconduct deserving of instant dismissal? I think not.

02 August 2007

Political neutrality

Controversy surrounding the handling of an apparent conflict of interest of a senior employee of the Ministry for the Environment has raised questions about the the political neutrality of the public service. For further information on these issues, see the SSC website, link on the right hand column of this blog. It includes a statement about the handling of the affair, and you can find also the Public Service Code of Conduct that addresses the principle of political neutrality.
On another aspect of relations between politicians and public servants, a recent comment in the Herald (July 28) by the PM is also of interest. She was discussing how the relationship between the NZ and British Labour Parties results in a lot of policy ideas being exchanged. When asked, though, to what extent the ideas come from the public service, she gave what she called 'a very blunt answer': 'We generate the ideas'. The role of the public service, in her eyes, is then to turn those ideas into detailed policy, and to implement them.
This approach is in fact in accord with the intent of the State Sector Act. The same Act delegates employment matters to CEOs, and this means that Ministers should not interfere with the employment of public servants.