State Services Commissioner Iain Rennie has acknowledged the release of Ombudsman Professor Ron Paterson’s findings following a complaint from Mr Derek Leask.
The complaint related to the findings and processes used during the Investigation into the Possible Unauthorised Disclosure of Information Relating to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade (MFAT) and the Investigator’s final report as they applied to Mr Leask.
“I am pleased that this report has been released, Mr Rennie said.
“However, I’m very disappointed that some details have appeared in the news media when the Ombudsman’s final report had been provided under embargo and with an expectation of confidence,” said Mr Rennie.
“I initiated the original investigation because I need to be able to assure Ministers and the public that information will be kept confidential when necessary and Public Servants will behave with the highest levels of integrity,” he said.
“I appointed Dame Paula Rebstock as an independent investigator who is highly regarded and very capable, with extensive governance and senior leadership experience in both the private and public sectors”.
The Ombudsman’s findings centre on the process that was followed during the investigation when engaging with Mr Leask, as well as the process of finalising the report and the way Mr Leask’s actions were represented in the report, especially when compared to the actions of other Public Servants at the time.
“Dame Paula’s investigation covered a broader range of issues, including the conduct of Public Servants and the secure handling of information. From my perspective those findings have not been called into question”.
“I also accept that the way in which the investigation dealt with Mr Leask could have been better,” he said.
“I don’t agree with all elements of the Ombudsman’s findings, in particular that in making findings relating to Mr Leask the investigation was outside its Terms of Reference.”
“I disagree with the Ombudsman on this point,” Mr Rennie said.
“Terms of Reference for investigations need to be specific enough to give clarity to all involved, while giving enough scope for the investigator to pursue information and lines of inquiry that present themselves during an investigation,” said Mr Rennie.
“Notwithstanding our reservations, the points made by the Ombudsman will be considered during the development of any future Terms of Reference and we will strengthen our guidance in this area,” he said.
The Ombudsman has found that a statement made by Mr Rennie in a radio interview on the day of the report’s release that implied two senior officials leaked information was unreasonable.
“This comment was made during a longer radio news interview and I accept it was incorrect,” Mr Rennie said.
“It was not intentional and I have apologised in writing to Mr Leask for this statement,” he said. “I am happy to reiterate my apology here”.
The Ombudsman has recommended SSC make three types of redress for the issues he identified, involving financial compensation and a public apology.
“The Ombudsman’s recommendations provide a pragmatic way for both parties to move forward,” he said “The issues here took place some years ago and I hope that we can now quickly reach a resolution”.
“Discussions on potential redress with Mr Leask are ongoing and therefore no further comment is appropriate at this time,” Mr Rennie said.
Notes to Editors
The State Services Commission is working to review the guidance provided to SSC investigators to inform any future investigations and strengthen it where necessary. Former Solicitor-General Mike Heron QC is being engaged to assist in this work and we will seek feedback from the Ombudsman and other statutory officers.
The investigation into the unauthorised disclosures of information about MFAT was initiated in mid-2012 and carried out by Dame Paula Rebstock as an independent investigator appointed under the State Sector Act 1988. The Investigation Report was released in December 2013.
Mr Leask made a complaint to the Office of the Ombudsman in February 2014 and Professor Paterson commenced his investigation in June 2014.