One of the core principles of our public service is that Ministers have no role in staffing decisions. This is not the era of Seddon, where a Minister can hire or fire at will, and stack “their” department with cronies and time-servers regardless of merit. Instead, for over a century, public sector heads have been statutorily independent in such matters.
John Key has just pissed all over that principle:
The official who let the Malaysian Government believe New Zealand was comfortable with a diplomat accused of attempted rape going home, should consider their career options, the prime minister says.
Prime Minister John Key has backed both Foreign Minister Murray McCully and Mfat chief executive John Allen on the handling of the incident, but he has signalled repeatedly that he could not understand how an official could have given any sign that the position was unclear, given New Zealand’s sound legal system and the seriousness of the allegations.
“If that person doesn’t have clarity about that position then they need to think very strongly about whether they’re in the right job,” Key said, adding that the situation had added to the distress of the victim.
Key said the official had created the ambiguity.
“That led to a situation that is unacceptable to me, and I think it is very distressing for the woman,” he said.
The message is clear: the Prime Minister wants them to resign or be sacked. Its a direct attempt to pressure MFAT’s CEO on a decision in which they are statutorily independent, and it irrevocably taints any inquiry, in that any decision to discipline or terminate the employee will be seen as the inquiry merely doing the Prime Minister’s bidding. Such an improper intervention doesn’t just expose the government to legal risk – Key has just given the employee an excellent case for constructive dismissal – it also directly violates Cabinet Manual guidance on interactions with the public service.
But as we’ve already seen, violating the Cabinet Manual is a problem for Key. A “higher standard” of government? I think not.