The State Services Commission will look into bullying allegations against Retirement Commissioner Diane Maxwell following a Newsroom investigation, the Government has confirmed.
Maxwell has been asked to immediately take leave while the SSC inquiry – which will also cover concerns about her organisation’s governance structure – takes place.
Last week, Newsroom revealed that more than a dozen former staff at the Commission for Financial Capability had raised concerns about a culture of bullying and mismanagement led by Maxwell, along with poor HR practices, with several saying their mental and physical health had suffered as a direct result.
Speaking to Newsroom, Commerce and Consumer Affairs Minister Kris Faafoi said the nature of the concerns meant a formal investigation was needed.
“They are serious allegations, and we want to make sure workplaces are safe and good places to work…getting the SSC to review the allegations is the proper thing to do.”
Faafoi said he had asked Maxwell to take paid leave from the commission until the SSC completed its investigation, which he expected to be by the end of February next year.
While the terms of reference for the inquiry were still being developed, the minister said he expected the SSC to speak to any former or current employees who wanted to share concerns about their time at the commission.
Faafoi said allegations about Maxwell manipulating the organisation’s turnover figures to minimise their size had not been formally brought to him, but should be investigated if they were raised by those who spoke to the SSC.
He had received “correspondence” from a handful of former or current employees, although not yet any formal complaints about Maxwell.
Employees who spoke to Newsroom said the commission’s structure, including the lack of a board to oversee the commissioner’s actions, was partly the reason why staff had not spoken out sooner.
“It goes everyone, then Diane, then the Government,” one employee said.
Faafoi said he had had “informal discussions” before Newsroom’s investigation about the nature of the commission’s governance structure, and whether it had kept up with the organisation’s growing scope.
“You’ve got to look at the history of it: it started off as a very small entity, and over time its mandate has increased, as well as its budget…
“If we look at the structure and some of the allegations that are made here, there is certainly some cause to look at changing it.”
Legislation would be needed for any governance changes given how the commission was set up, he said.
Faafoi has asked MBIE to provide support services to employees at the commission, who would be going through a difficult time while the investigation took place.
Newsroom confirmed last week that Maxwell would not be reappointed when her term expired in June next year, with Faafoi saying it was “appropriate to go to the market to reappoint”.