Wednesday, April 23, 2014

"Shoulder-tapping" vs public service values

Another angle to the Shane Jones resignation:

Mr Jones said he would leave Parliament next month after he was shoulder tapped by Foreign Minister Murray McCully for a new role as a roving economic ambassador across the Pacific.

This is of course a total violation of public service values, and an unlawful exercise of Ministerial power.

For more than a hundred years, New Zealand has had a professional, politically neutral public service. In 1912 the Public Service Act removed Ministers from the appointment process, ending their ability to treat the public service as a means of rewarding their cronies. That ideal is given modern form in section 33 of the State Sector Act, which requires Chief Executives to act independently in employment matters, including appointments, promotions, demotions, transfers, disciplinary proceedings, or sackings. Chief Executives are explicitly not responsible to Ministers for these decisions. Ministers "shoulder tapping" preferred candidates for public service roles is precisely what the law is supposed to prevent. Instead, it looks like we're back to Seddon and his infamous "learn him".

Just a few years ago, both a Minister and a Chief Executive were forced to resign over unlawful interference in employment matters (the former by demanding that someone be sacked, the latter for obeying, then bowing to the "suggestion" of the next Minister to employ a crony). That lesson appears not to have been learned. Clearly we need to put some more heads on spikes, until Ministers and Chief Executives start obeying the law.