Armstrong on Immigration Service

John Armstrong makes the case for a commission of inquiry into the .

Just how bad do things have to get before the Government sets up a full commission of inquiry to independently investigate the mounting allegations of corruption in the Immigration Service?

Despite growing calls for such an inquiry with judicial powers to summon witnesses, the answer is a lot worse yet.

Remember that none of us at all would have any idea about all this, if it were not for some good journalism. For those who missed it, TVNZ also had some further revelations about a $500,000 contract that wasn’t put out to tender and conflicts of interest with staff.

It is understood the Prime Minister, who returned from overseas yesterday, is satisfied that the three separate investigations now being conducted by the Department of Labour, the police and the State Services Commission are sufficient to reassure the public the allegations are being taken extremely seriously.

But the Government is at risk of being tainted as more light is shed on Thompson’s tenure and whether ministers knew what was allegedly going on. It is consequently putting its faith in the department’s recently appointed chief executive, Christopher Blake, wielding his authority and cleaning up the mess in its immigration branch without having to resort to an independent inquiry.

With no disrespect to Mr Blake, but the last time the Department of Labour inquired into NZIS, it was the “lies in unison” scandal and that report was seen as a near total whitewash – the Ombudsman then used his rarely used powers to investigate – uncovering a very different story.

In another Herald story, Audrey Young reveals that a recruitment agency in 2004 is responsible for finding out that did not have a PhD, when she applied for DPMC Chief Executive.

It appears she withdrew her application after the then State Services Commission, Michael Wintringham, discussed the issue with her.

Now there are two issues in regard to what Wintringham did. The first is whether he should have ruled her ineligible for any further senior state sector roles, and informed Ministers at the time. Now one can debate whether or not he was right to do nothing – I happen to think he was very wrong, as clearly history has shown us.

But there is another bigger issue regarding Wintringham. While it was his call as to how to handle it at the time, he did have a legal obligation to record in Thompson’s personnel file the issue of the fake doctorate. Anyone with even a minor involvement in HR knows you record absolutely everything as files notes in someone’s file. It would be beyond belief if the most senior CEO in the public sector knew of a fake qualification, and did not record it in her file. If he failed to do so, then the has failed completely as a role model for the public sector. If he did do so, then questions should be asked as to whether the current Commissioner checked Thompson’s file when the allegations regarding her conduct with the Immigration Service became public.

So MPs and journalists should ask whether Wintringham made a file note or not. This is separate to the issue of whether he alerted anyone. The latter issue was within his discretion (even though he used it badly), but if he failed to make a file note, then that is a major credibility issue for the SSC.

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