Dom Post on MFAT

July 4th, 2014 at 10:00 am by David Farrar

The Dom Post editorial:

Something is seriously wrong at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade. Diplomats must speak with one voice when dealing with foreign states. In the case of the alleged Malaysian sex offender, they did not. The official line was that the Government wanted Malaysia to waive Muhammad Rizalman’s diplomatic immunity. But informally the diplomats were apparently telling Malaysia the man could go home.

This is either wilful disobedience or extreme incompetence. It is hard to believe that any diplomat would knowingly subvert the Government’s expressed wishes and policy. Sacking would be the only possible punishment. But the incompetence is just as serious, and on the face of it should also lead to dismissal.

I don’t think you make employment decisions on the basis of , and also you decide on the basis of someone’s overall job performance, not just one stuff up. However I do agree this is very serious.

One astonishing revelation is that the ministry’s chief executive, John Allen, did not know the key details about the Malaysian fiasco until last Friday. He says this was the result of the ministry’s policy of “compartmentalisation” of information. This policy has clearly gone too far if it means that an extremely serious situation is kept from the ministry’s own boss. “Compartmentalisation” on that scale is madness.

I agree. has a secrecy culture that goes to extremes, and in this case is madness.

There remains a suspicion, after all, that the present shambles has its roots in the disastrous restructuring of the ministry under McCully’s watch. That “redisorganisation” led to a revolt of the ministry’s most senior staff and then to an apparently botched witchhunt ordered by State Services Commissioner Iain Rennie.

The whole project was misconceived and mismanaged, based as it was on the principle that the ministry could operate with far fewer experts. 

I argue quite the opposite. I think this shows why change was necessary. Some (not all) MFAT staff regard themselves as a law unto themselves. They think foreign policy is their exclusive preserve, and the wishes of the Government of the day has little to do with how they do their jobs. Yes Minister struck close to the truth here.

I suspect this is why John Allen wasn’t informed. He may be the Secretary for Foreign Affairs, but’s he not a life-ling diplomat – so he wasn’t told.

Tags: , ,

30 Responses to “Dom Post on MFAT”

  1. James Stephenson (2,071 comments) says:

    A secrecy culture that goes to extremes, but doesn’t extend to not leaking anything and everything to Phil Goff.

    Vote: Thumb up 14 Thumb down 0 You need to be logged in to vote
  2. MarkF (99 comments) says:

    Why are we surprised? “Yes Minister” was a documentary series!

    Vote: Thumb up 10 Thumb down 0 You need to be logged in to vote
  3. lazza (362 comments) says:

    Oh how often do we hear these words? …

    “Sacking would be the only possible punishment. But the incompetence is just as serious, and on the face of it should also lead to dismissal”.

    … only for nothing to happen.

    Accountability of public servants-elected memebers along with democratic process is nigh on dead in this Counctry.

    One lives in hope …and I note that the PM has called for the MFAT bozo (s?) … to be shown the door.

    Vote: Thumb up 8 Thumb down 0 You need to be logged in to vote
  4. mikenmild (11,158 comments) says:

    I’m not sure that it is helpful for the PM to be announcing the punishment before the inquiry has been held.

    Vote: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 18 You need to be logged in to vote
  5. Nookin (3,138 comments) says:

    “I’m not sure that it is helpful for the PM to be announcing the punishment before the inquiry has been held.”
    Nor do I. Isn’t it comforting that he didn’t!!!

    Vote: Thumb up 11 Thumb down 0 You need to be logged in to vote
  6. BeaB (2,067 comments) says:

    Entitled, ensconced in their cushy jobs, sheltered by 18th century conventions – we need to take a closer look at how we actually need to be represented overseas and stop this endless round of perks and protections. The diplomatic service these days is antiquated and mostly irrelevant. My dealings with them in China and SE Asia didn’t impress me at all. And those ghastly snobby wives!
    I think Goff’s boys in MFAT did the dirty and they should be booted out.

    Vote: Thumb up 16 Thumb down 0 You need to be logged in to vote
  7. kowtow (7,844 comments) says:

    Public servants need to remember they serve us the public, not themselves.

    Vote: Thumb up 13 Thumb down 1 You need to be logged in to vote
  8. kowtow (7,844 comments) says:

    Didn’t the “gone by lunchtime” leak/smear come from a MFAT staff member?

    Vote: Thumb up 9 Thumb down 1 You need to be logged in to vote
  9. Manolo (13,514 comments) says:

    After all, the Labour Party moles are quite effective at creating scandals.

    Vote: Thumb up 13 Thumb down 1 You need to be logged in to vote
  10. Jack5 (4,745 comments) says:

    If these pampered prats get near the Security Council we soon could have World War 3.

    Vote: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0 You need to be logged in to vote
  11. mjw (289 comments) says:

    It is surprising that the Minister knew things before the Chief Executive did. Suggests there are some governance problems as well. There is more to this than meets the eye I suspect.

    Vote: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 0 You need to be logged in to vote
  12. Ross12 (1,211 comments) says:

    DPF “.. and also you decide on the basis of someone’s overall job performance, not just one stuff up. However I do agree this is very serious.”

    Absolutely disagree. If the person or people can be identified then they should be shown the door immediately. No messing around !!! The editorial is right when it says ” This is either wilful disobedience or extreme incompetence.” The people involved would be senior people so there is no excuse on either ground.

    Vote: Thumb up 8 Thumb down 0 You need to be logged in to vote
  13. alwyn (397 comments) says:

    kowtow @ 10.24am said

    “Public servants need to remember they serve us the public, not themselves.”

    Where on earth did you get that ridiculous idea from? You must regard it as your privilege to provide them with their pay and perks while they amuse themselves with their own interests.
    “Serve the public” the man says. What a dream world you are living in!

    Vote: Thumb up 12 Thumb down 0 You need to be logged in to vote
  14. tvb (4,229 comments) says:

    The Editorial plays is straight down the middle. McCully is a meddler until he gets into trouble and his response is nothing to see here move along please. This is not the first time he has ran foul of the bureaucracy, he got into strife when he was a Minister in the Bolger Government. No doubts there are plenty of scrapes which we do not know about. He is quite smart at tactical politics on how to score a cheap headline but on anything strategic where he is required to think several steps ahead he has a brain fade. The Labour Party s full of people like him. Seeing plots everywhere but meanwhile engaging in more than a few of his own.

    Vote: Thumb up 7 Thumb down 2 You need to be logged in to vote
  15. G152 (204 comments) says:

    Let Liebor employ the ‘leakers’ …
    Clean the lot of the wastrels out and rebuild from the office boy up

    Vote: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0 You need to be logged in to vote
  16. scrubone (3,074 comments) says:

    They have similar problems in the states under Republican administrations.

    Vote: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 1 You need to be logged in to vote
  17. backster (2,103 comments) says:

    I think the root cause of the problems trace back to the bauble allocated to Peters by Clark. Go where you like spend as much as you want just stay out of the way. She then embedded key staff to report back on him. Now National reaps the damage while Goff inherits the ‘report back’ from the still embedded staff.

    Vote: Thumb up 7 Thumb down 0 You need to be logged in to vote
  18. igm (1,413 comments) says:

    As I Have said long before current episode, this department is top heavy with self-indulgent, self-serving, incompetent, over-salaried PSA drones. Adding to that, they have a history of left-leaning, leaking to media and Labour, and it is time the whole department is abolished and their tasks carried out by private sector. I still think Weasel Goff and Mumblefuck are complicit in this current f/up.

    Vote: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 0 You need to be logged in to vote
  19. lastmanstanding (1,220 comments) says:

    John Allen is a classic example of a person being promoted well beyond their level of competency. He has a history of mishandling and mismanagement to the point I wouldn’t employ him even in a low responsibility position.
    Couple this with a dysfunctional culture that has existed for decades at MFAT and you have a truly toxic combination.
    Throw in a Minister whose people management skills are akin to the KGB’s and you cant really be surprised at the latest in a long line of cock ups.
    Short of a total clean out from the top down and starting again MFAT will continue to be a very expensive joke department.

    Vote: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 5 You need to be logged in to vote
  20. igm (1,413 comments) says:

    How is it that The Dom have this policy and “Manawatu Standard” are blaming Key and McCully? Is this the reason the rag is on its last legs . . . sooner it goes the better!

    Vote: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0 You need to be logged in to vote
  21. mudrunner (88 comments) says:

    John Allan is a very competent CEO and a bit of a victim here.

    A victim of his staff and the Minister.

    Compartmentalisation makes sense but the inability of middle/senior staff to understand when to tell the boss and when not to in incomprehensible.

    Vote: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 2 You need to be logged in to vote
  22. berend (1,660 comments) says:

    I see the Nats are circling the wagons. Disappointing. Let me just quote Danyl:

    As usual the Minister responsible is claiming ignorance. If there’s anything happening inside the Labour Party these guys are always all over it

    Spot on I would say. After reorganisation by a senior National Party Minister, organisation is in disarray. Blaming bureaucrats is something the Labour Party used to do. What a surprise to see the National Labour Party doing the same. Not.

    Vote: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 8 You need to be logged in to vote
  23. Paulus (2,535 comments) says:

    Would it be fair to say, I believe, that the three senior staff in the Protocol Department of Mfat are women – no, sorry.
    One is an Ambassador designate I understand.

    Vote: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0 You need to be logged in to vote
  24. CryHavoc (44 comments) says:

    I’m not sure why I’m going to do this, but here goes…

    To the extent anyone gives a shit you will see from my comments made on kiwiblog that I am far from left-wing – a Government consisting of the current opposition is genuinely scary to me. I am also ex-MFAT and, take it from someone who looked out for such things, MFAT is not a hive of left-wing activity. Without question there are well-meaning, cardigan-wearing Otago polsci grads who believe fervently in climate change and the efficacy of the UN, but there are plenty of neoliberals too.

    In this case the old saying of never attributing to conspiracy what can be put down to cock-up I think rings true. Not that that excuses at all what has happened here (though I will be very interested in what exactly has happened, and if McCully hasn’t been more involved than he is claiming I will be flabbergasted), but some of the rhetoric here and on yesterday’s thread is OTT.

    It’s relevant that of the seven MFAT alumni in parliament now, four are Nats (Groser, Hayes, Parata, Foster-Bell), two are Labour (Cunliffe, Robertson) and one Green (Graham) – yeah we weren’t proud of all of them (where do you think the nickname “silent T” was thought up?). And on policy, the agency that brought you the China FTA, the closest relationship we’ve had with the US in 30 years, and now the TPP, is hardly working towards a socialist paradise.

    Forgive this rant – despite historical loyalty I am well gone from MFAT and very happily in the private sector earning more money for less work – but some of the abuse is warranted; much of it isn’t. The vast majority of MFAT staff are working bloody hard for little recognition and yes, not that much money.

    Anyway my day has just been significantly brightened by Cunliffe’s apology for being a man, so I’m going to go focus on that.

    Vote: Thumb up 7 Thumb down 1 You need to be logged in to vote
  25. David Garrett (6,639 comments) says:

    Lastman:You clearly have never met John Allen…he was a partner at the major law firm I worked for after graduation…he is a formidably intelligent guy and a very successful litigator…he was seconded to NZ Post and later became its CEO…I dont believe you rise to such a position if you are less than very competent…

    I have no idea what John’s politics are, but if I had to guess I would say somewhat left of centre…

    All of that said, I agree with those who say there needs to be a clean out at MFAT…the prat who decided his boss didnt need to know about the Malaysian surely has to go, and sooner rather than later…

    Vote: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 1 You need to be logged in to vote
  26. altiora (214 comments) says:

    @ David Garrett I agree. Dealt with quite a few MFAT people, and also socially. They have some exceptional people, but they also have a large number of self-conceited idiots who think themselves some sort of elite or royalty. Hence their outrage whenever questioned about why they have such scandalous allowances, and their horror of being required to pay the same tax on those allowances as other mere employees. McCully has been offside with the latter because he has sought to bring changes to ensure that bright younger ones with ability are given real assignments rather than wait in line until some time server has died or retired 20 years later (truth be told, that problem is true throughout the entire public sector).

    In the case of this Malaysian diplomat, not only was there clearly a fundamental misconception about who the boss is; but it is also a case that MFAT lawyers were involved and if they as lawyers can’t recognise when they are creating ambiguity, they are clearly incompetent and should be sacked given the debacle this has become.

    Vote: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0 You need to be logged in to vote
  27. CharlieBrown (916 comments) says:

    CryHavoc – you seem to be quite balanced and know a lot about MFAT so you might be able to answer my question. Is it possible or likely that NZ is just going along with the Malaysians version of events to avoid embarrassing that government and souring relations with them? I know its a gross generalization but South East Asian countries don’t have a great reputation when it comes to corruption and the fact that we produced a very clear and definitive written statement of what the Malaysians insisted on and the best that they come up with is a description of informal talks and emails. If it meant bringing a man to justice I would quite happily go along with that.

    Can journalists request to see these emails or transcripts of talks with all involved using the official information act?

    Vote: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0 You need to be logged in to vote
  28. CryHavoc (44 comments) says:

    Hi CharlieBrown – thanks for your comment, I’ve been pretty angry about this all week so I’m glad I seem balanced! In truth I read it exactly as you have said above. It’s absolutely par for the course for countries like Malaysia to latch on to any excuse to save face.

    Here’s how I break it down. The Malaysians have had the option since day one to waive the guy’s immunity. MFAT made a formal request via Third Person Note (so called in the trade because it is highly formal and represents the “official view of the Government”) that asked the Malaysians to waive immunity. The Malaysians responded ten days later saying that they would not… oh and please cover up all the evidence. It seems clear to me that they had no intention of letting the guy face trial here.

    Subsequent to that, just as the thing is blowing up (like this week I.e. A month or so later) in Malaysia and there’s a heap of domestic political pressure on the Government of Malaysia (because their young, westernized, savvy population has the same view of sex-pests that we do and they’re all saying he should be tried here) they say “Oh, we had been led to believe that it would be ok if he came home.”

    I call bullshit on this. In the diplomatic game it is all formal and you don’t assume a country’s view until it is on paper. If they thought there was ambiguity, and they genuinely gave a crap about whether the guy stayed or not, they would have sought clarification from NZ before sending him home. There is just simply no way that a mid-level official in MFAT saying “um, well, it might be ok if he faces a court martial in Malaysia” would trump the formal exchange above.

    [Now I have no idea what the nature of those informal conversations was, so I could be completely wrong - but I still can't believe they wouldn't seek formal clarification.]

    So… What has happened this week, as far as I can see, is that the Malaysians have found themselves in the shit. They’ve sent a shitbag to NZ and he’s caused a major embarrassment to them. They’ve therefore reached for the only remaining excuse they have – some flimsy bollocks about informal conversations – and said oh no it’s ok, we’ll send the guy back, we’re the good guys here (ignoring all the time that they could have played this card at any stage… and of course knowing that the guy is some low ranking bloke who’s expendable), and hence regained the moral high ground. McCully, much to my disdain, has allowed them to do it – aided and abetted by the singularly stupid and insular NZ media for whom finding a scapegoat is the key objective, rather than doing any analysis.

    So that’s just my take. And to answer your other question, yes, absolutely everything on the MFAT record is OIAable on this. It will no doubt be heavily redacted to prevent the Minister taking any flak, but there should be a record of every conversation that has taken place on this issue. Not transcripts per se but file notes of everything.

    Vote: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 1 You need to be logged in to vote
  29. CharlieBrown (916 comments) says:

    Thanks for that CryHavoc. I find it hard to believe that any of the parties in parliament with exception of Hone could conscionably allow that sex pest to get away with it. Whether it was David Cunliffe or Murray McCully, I’m certain they would all do their utmost to set that right. I hope that once that pest has came back to NZ without diplomatic immunity and he gets sent to prison that the truth comes out, even if it exposes a corrupt malaysian government.

    Vote: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 1 You need to be logged in to vote
  30. altiora (214 comments) says:

    Of course you’re correct CryHavoc. Have worked in the public sector for many years myself. The language and explanations given by MFAT and the government were straight out of the public sector play book of let’s take the easy way out by being wishywashy rather than justifiably point the finger at the person who was wrong. Doubtlessly trade issues and the security council bid have resulted in New Zealand bending of backwards to avoid Malaysia losing face. That said, I would have thought that good diplomats would sense when the other side is being “tricky” and have gone straight to the Minister asap.

    Vote: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 1 You need to be logged in to vote

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.