Tuesday, June 24, 2014

The Jones appointment

Back in April, Shane Jones announced that he would be quitting Parliament to take up a position as a "Pacific Economic Ambassador", which the Herald noted had been "created by the National Government especially for him". Like many people I was curious about this, so I filed an OIA request seeking information on the role and the appointments process. That OIA was filed on 28 April. Last night - after a mere 41 working days - I received the response. The full documents are up on DocumentCloud here (if that doesn't work, someone also requested it through FYI. We all got the same response).

Some key observations:

  • The position was dreamed up by McCully. On January 28, Billie Moore - apparently his press secretary - sent an email to senior MFAT staff relaying the Minister's views on the need for an ambassador to "move the region forward" on fisheries issues. The Minister was "keen for feedback from the Ministry on how you see this issue", but clearly didn't like what he heard: all immediate response was redacted as "free and frank advice", while the Ministry's promised "considered view" was not included in the release.
  • The job was created especially for Jones. On March 3 Moore tells MFAT CEO John Allen that "the Government has decided to appoint an Ambassador for Pacific Economic Development". Allen's response is "I am seeing Shane tomorrow evening. I will let you know how I get on".
  • There was no job description until May. You would expect a formal role whose creation had been discussed with the Ministry to have produced one during the advice process. Instead MFAT staff were scrambling to produce one in the days after Jones left Parliament.
  • There is no information whatsoever on the appointment process: no mention of other candidates, interviews, or shortlists. It appears that McCully simply decided, King Dick style, that Jones should be employed, and so it happened. As previously noted, this is a total violation of public service values, and an unlawful exercise of Ministerial power.
  • There is a stunning lack of formal advice. No briefings. No policy development docs about the need for the position. No Cabinet papers (and there should be one for an appointment at this level). No salary information. No formal advice to the G-G to make the appointment. Not even an appointment letter. Clearly some of this material must exist - the government is incapable of functioning without it - but for some reason it has been withheld. Given how ordinary such documents usually are, either it shows how blatantly political and corrupt this appointment was, or it is another example of McCully's obsessive secrecy.
When I first heard of this appointment, I commented that if McCully had offered Jones a briefcase full of cash rather than a specially-created high-paying job to resign, we'd call it what it is: Corruption and bribery of member of Parliament. From what I've seen in this release, I stand by that.