Thursday, August 29, 2013

Seriously conflicted II

In July 2012, Christine Rankin - a member of the Families Commission - joined the board of the Conservative Party. Did she tell her employer about this massive conflict of interest? Of course not:

We have no record that the Families Commission was aware of any additional conflicts of interest apart from those disclosed by Ms Rankin between 2009 and 2011.

While the register of interests is a standard agenda item updated at each Board meeting, the Families Commission was not aware of Ms Rankin's political party involvement prior to Monday 6 May 2013. On that date Ms Rankin emailed the interim Chief Commissioner and advised that she would be acting as Chief Executive of the Conservative party. A copy of the email is attached.

Ms Rankin's term ended shortly after this date so we did not provide advice on managing this issue.

That email is a perfect example of Rankin's arrogance: she informs the Commission of a conflict of interest "just out of courtesy". She goes on
I wouldn't normally let you know about TLC's contracts but as this is a political party of which I am a board member I thought I should. Feel free to call of this causes any concern.
The Families Commission was apparently not concerned, but the rest of the public service was. When MSD heard of it - after the public announcement - they immediately asked SSC for advice. The SSC advised that the conflict was not manageable, and Rankin left 4 days later.

This is an appalling example of lax oversight by the Families Commission and its Minister, Paula Bennett. At the same time, it also appears to involve active deceit from Rankin. How could she not think that high-level involvement in a political party - and a political party with extremely strong views on "the family" - would be a conflict of interest? Or did she really think that because she laundered the relationship though a corporate shell, the conflict disappeared?

Either way, the Families Commission needs a shakeup, so that they can recognise a conflict of interest and act appropriately. And it raises a question: how many other such conflicts have gone unnoticed, because our Crown Entities are stacked with cranks and party hacks unfamiliar with the ethical obligations of public service?

[Thanks to Alex Harris on FYI for following this up]

Update: It gets worse: according to a clarification on that FYI request, the Families Commission did not tell MSD that Rankin had become CEO of a political party. They learned about it from the media. Someone needs sacking for this.