Someone told someone but we don’t know who

October 7, 2010

In nine years with Labour in power did anyone leak anything of significance in order to sabotage government policy?

After less than two years with National in power there have already been two leaks designed to do that.

The first was information from the cabinet paper on a stocktake of minerals on Schedule 4 land. The second was information from a  Cabinet paper on lifting performance and service delivery in the State Sector.

The State Services Commissioner, Iain Rennie,  investigated and discovered someone told someone something they shouldn’t have but was unable to determine who:

In respect of the minerals inquiry it was found that there was a deliberate unauthorised disclosure. There was not sufficient evidence to establish who disclosed the information. The evidence does not indicate that disclosures were more likely to have come from the Public Service than other parties who had access to the information disclosed.

In respect of the machinery of government paper investigation it was found that there was a deliberate unauthorised disclosure of information relating to the options contained in the Cabinet paper. No one person was identified as having deliberately disclosed the information. However, at least one aspect of what was being proposed was probably disclosed by a public servant. The report found that the evidence lead to the conclusion that one of the sources for the journalists was either someone in the National Library, or someone being told something by someone in the National Library, who then passed this information on. This is a disappointing finding as it indicates a lapse from the high standard of professionalism held by the majority of public servants.

In the introduction to his statement Mr Rennie said:

The unauthorised disclosure of government information strikes at the heart of the crucial relationship of trust that needs to exist between Ministers and their officials, for the business of government to work as it should. Ministers have a right to make decisions in a calm and deliberative manner and through processes which are not destabilised by premature and unauthorised disclosure.

This reminded me of  an interview earlier this year in which Mark Prebble told Kathryn Ryan:

“Public servants have to implement the policies of the government of the day

Many people come to government to try to support a good cause. They don’t realise the one who has to determine which good cause is to be supported is the democratically minister of the day. And quite a lot of departments, not slinging off at their professionalism but say DOC, you get a lot of people who join DOC because they know they want to save a kakapo and if not a kakapo it will be the lesser spotted whatever. And if the lesser spotted whatever is not on the minister’s list of priorities they’ll find it hard to do.

A key part of the role of senior public servants is to explain to them well it is the minister who has to take the heat in public about that and the public servant really isn’t just employed to follow their own interests and if they want to follow their interests they can go and work in the private sector like anyone else. . .

. . . No public servant should be zealous about the particular cause they’re interested in. They should be zealous about democracy and respecting the law. . .”

The  public service must be apolitical.

This doesn’t mean public servants can’t hold political views but it does mean they can’t be political in their work and they can’t  use knowledge gained in their work to further their political aims.

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