Tuesday, May 28, 2013

The Blue appointment

Labour is alleging that Judith Collins ignored proper process to appoint Jackie Blue as Equal Employment Opportunities Commissioner. having received the appointment documents last week and gone through them, I wasn't so sure - Collins seems to have followed a normal process (for her) of approving an appointments process, sitting on her arse for months, selecting the shortlist herself, and appointing the recommended person. But then there's this:

Responding to Labour's written questions about National MP Ms Blue's appointment last month, the Justice Minister initially said she didn't discuss the job with Dr Blue until after October 13. She later changed her answer, saying Dr Blue approached her about the job in September and gave her a CV.

"I agreed to find out whether it was appropriate for a sitting MP to put her name forward and, if I was satisfied, then the CV would be submitted to the ministry," Ms Collins said.

Which puts things in a rather different light. The public advertisement said applications closed on 13 October 2012. Blue didn't formally apply until mid November. That in itself isn't a problem - I've looked at a lot of appointment paper-trails over the last few years, and it is quite common for departments to accept late applications. But then there's this: when Collins finally gets around to selecting a shortlist, she indicates Jackie Blue should be interviewed (pg 6), and then just to make sure the Secretary of Justice (who is on the interview panel) gets the message, she writes Blue's name in the space for "any other candidates". Which to me looks like giving a clear steer to the interview panel.

(Also, given the secrecy around the other candidates, we have no idea whether Collins selected the strongest candidates, or deliberately selected weaker ones so that Blue would be the unquestioned recommendation of the panel. Its a question she needs to be made to answer, on the record, about both this and every other appointment she has made).

SSC's advice on the process (sought after Blue applied) stressed that
The management of any possible perception issues is best effected through the operation of a fair and proper process supporting the appointment. This would include a careful consideration by the panel of the qualities, experience, and skills of applicants against the EEO Commissioners role requirements

By involving herself so deeply in the appointment process and selecting the shortlist herself, Collins has fatally undermined that perception. At the first sign of this conflict of interest, she should have removed herself from the process, and let the Ministry do the shortlist and select the interview panel. Her failure to do that is suspicious. The tragedy here is that Blue would otherwise be a strong candidate for the job; Collins' control-freakery and contempt for process has undermined her reputation and appointment. Collins owes her a grovelling apology.

[Further documents on the Blue appointment can be found here]