17 Jun 2014

Second complaint over MFAT report expected

10:43 pm on 17 June 2014

A second civil servant criticised in a controversial report about a restructure at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade is expected to complain to the Ombudsman.

State Services Minister Jonathan Coleman says he has no concerns about the Ombudsman's decision to investigate Paula Rebstock's report, following a complaint by former diplomat Derek Leask.

Jonathan Coleman.

Jonathan Coleman. Photo: RNZ

The Ombudsman is investigating Mr Leask's complaint over the report which suggested he politicised changes proposed at MFAT. Mr Leask says he made the complaint because he is anxious that it be independently reviewed.

Paula Rebstock's 18-month inquiry criticised Mr Leask and another senior manager Nigel Fyfe for lobbying chief executives of other agencies, including the-then Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet's chief executive, Maarten Wevers.

Mr Leask said on Tuesday that Mr Wevers told the inquiry that kind of communication wasn't unusual.

"The findings of the report criticise me for actions which I regarded as entirely legitimate. And I might add that senior people like the former head of the Prime Minister's department directly contradicted some of Ms Rebstock's findings. So again, I wasn't on my own in questioning those findings."

Paula Rebstock.

Paula Rebstock. Photo: SUPPLIED

Radio New Zealand News understands that Nigel Fyfe, who has recently returned to work as deputy secretary at the Ministry of Justice, intends to lay a similar complaint with the Ombudsman.

In her report, Ms Rebstock criticised Mr Leask and Mr Fyfe, saying they opposed the restructure and created a perception that it was acceptable for any opposition to be aired publicly.

Neither man was named in the report, but they were identifiable. Both dispute the report's findings and are critical of how the investigation was conducted.

Mr Leask said State Services Commissioner Iain Rennie was told by three QCs that the report should not have been released publicly because it contained significant flaws.

The Ombudsman will decide whether Ms Rebstock's inquiry was fair or whether the findings were wrong and unreasonable. The State Services Commission says it will be assisting the Ombudsman with its inquiries.

Union welcomes inquiry

The Public Service Association has welcomed the investigation, saying Paula Rebstock's report made serious accusations against senior public servants with no evidence to support them.

The union said on Tuesday the inquiry's terms of reference were changed mid-way through to consider how public servants responded to change management. National Secretary Brenda Pilott said the PSA is keen to challenge the report's findings.

"If that is seen to be setting a benchmark about how public servants may conduct themselves in challenging proposals from their employers about change management, then that's going to make change management processes virtually untenable for us."

The union is to make a submission to the Ombudsman's investigation.