Statement to the Evening Post by the State Services Commissioner, 26 March 2001.

Thank you for your questions on air points. I would prefer to respond to you in writing. It is critical that my comments are not misunderstood or misinterpreted.

First, in answer to your question, no, I don't think the principle that applies to public servants should be reconsidered. The principle, which applies to air points and other types of benefits, is that they belong to the department, not the individual. Public servants should not benefit, or be perceived to benefit, from public expenditure incurred during the course of their duties.

I don't want to enter into the detail of how public servants might use their personal credit cards, while on official business, so as to accumulate bonus points for themselves. Rather, my suggestion would be that people should use their judgement in these situations and ask the question: could this practice be perceived as benefiting me in the course of conducting official business?

Secondly, I recognise that there is a difference between MPs and public servants. There are 120 MPs, but there are about 30,000 public servants in the 39 core departments. It is easier to manage the air points of 120 people than it is for departments to adopt a new approach which might see thousands of people able to apply a new policy to air points.

I understand that you have information that some employees, in Crown entities, are allowed to use air points personally. I don't have any direct means of setting standards for Crown entities, but, generally-speaking, I think the same principle, as outlined above, should apply. The public does not differentiate between employees of departments and employees of Crown entities. To taxpayers, we are all public servants.

I understand that there have been some instances of people accumulating large numbers of air points. In my view, departments should avoid getting into situations where employees have large surpluses of air points.

Michael Wintringham

State Services Commissioner

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