Ombudsman backs former diplomat

Stuff reports:

The Government has rejected parts of a damning report into its handling of an inquiry into leaks from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade.

Ron Paterson has told the Government it should compensate a former top diplomat whose career ended in tatters after he was targeted by the inquiry, which was instigated by the State Services Commission.

He has also recommended a formal apology.

The 2013 inquiry has already cost taxpayers as much as $1 million, including lawyers costs and fees paid to the woman who headed it, Paula Rebstock. 

State Services Commissioner Iain Rennie said on Thursday he did not agree with some of Paterson’s findings and Foreign Affairs Minister Murray McCully stood by comments made at the time the inquiry was released.

McCully said the Ombudsman’s review criticised the steps taken in assessing the responsibility of particular individuals for “some very unprofessional behaviour” – but did not dispute that those behaviours occurred.

“My statement, made at the time of the release of the Rebstock report, referred to unprofessional and disreputable conduct but did not name any individuals. My statement was undoubtedly correct.”

The 2013 inquiry headed resulted in senior diplomats and Nigel Fyfe  being singled out , despite evidence the leaks that sparked it originated from within the State Services Commission itself. The person responsible cannot be identified because of suppression orders.

While they were not named in the State Services Commission-ordered inquiry, Leask and Fyfe were easily identifiable and their conduct was publicly  criticised by the State Services Commissioner and Foreign Affairs Minister Murray McCully after personal emails were published revealing their opposition to restructuring of the ministry.

I make no comment on Leask and Fyfe specifically but there was definitely some disgraceful behaviour within at the time. The lowlight being calls being made directly to Phil Goff from an conference room.

In a statement, Leask said the 2013 findings against him and other MFAT staff had been rubbished by the Ombudsman.

“It is good to have the slur on my reputation removed. Today’s findings by the Ombudsman go beyond the vindication of my actions. The Ombudsman’s report suggests that the 2012/2013 SSC investigation was out of control from start to finish.”

Leask, a former deputy secretary of foreign affairs and New Zealand’s high commissioner in London, said It was a matter of great public concern that the SSC acted in the way it did.

In a statement, Rennie said he did not agree with all elements of the Ombudsman’s findings, in particular that in making findings relating to the investigation being outside its terms of reference.

But  he accepted that the way in which the investigation dealt with Leask “could have been better”.

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