The findings of a wide-ranging inquiry into the state sector’s use of private investigators will be released before Christmas, State Services Commissioner Peter Hughes says.

The State Services Commission first launched an inquiry into Crown-owned insurance claim settler Southern Response’s use of private investigators Thompson & Clark on March 18, following allegations it had spied on Canterbury earthquake victims.

The scope of the inquiry was widened in June to include the entire state sector, after a number of Government agencies and Crown entities – including MBIE, MPI, and the NZSIS – admitted to potential issues with how their staff had used Thompson & Clark.

Speaking to media after appearing at Parliament’s Governance and Administration Select Committee, Hughes said the release of the inquiry findings was “imminent”, with the final legal processes underway.

“That’s been a really large, whole of Government inquiry, it’s been a massive undertaking, we’ve looked right across the public service and the Crown entities sector and I hope to release the details of that before Christmas.”

The scale and complexity of the inquiry was to blame for its protracted length, rather than any legal wranglings, he said.

“It’s big and complex, and we’ve had to work through it carefully and systematically, we’ve had to deal with a wide range of people and a wide range of agencies.”

No ‘systemic’ bullying in public service – Hughes

Hughes also confirmed he would soon release the terms of reference and head of an inquiry into bullying allegations made against Retirement Commissioner Diane Maxwell, as first reported by Newsroom.

He said he had seen nothing to suggest the public service was any worse than the private sector when it came to workplace bullying.

“I think like all workplaces in New Zealand, public service workplaces probably can do better, and we’re committed to doing that, but I’ve seen nothing to suggest there’s a systemic problem across the public service.”

However, he expressed some concern about the structure of some organisations such as Maxwell’s Commission for Financial Capability, where the chief executive functioned as their own board, and said that issue would be explored in the SSC inquiry.

“That’s a very good point: I think particularly in the Crown entity sector, a lot of these arrangements are quite old and I am interested in looking at how fit for purpose going forward some of these arrangements are.”

Extra leave for CEOs

During the committee meeting, Hughes was grilled by National MP Nick Smith on the decision earlier this year to grant public sector chief executives an extra week of leave.

Hughes said the extra leave came in exchange for chief executives, who were already paid less than their private sector counterparts, giving up their performance-related pay.

“Public service chief executives have gained a few days leave, but overall they’ve foregone a significant amount of salary and I absolutely commend them for agreeing to do that – I couldn’t make them do it, they’ve all agreed to that, and you will see public sector salaries at the top end coming back.”

“These are people that are paid a salary on average of $500,000 a year: in my view the public is being asked to pay more for less, and giving them an extra week’s holiday is a copout.”

However, Smith said it was “poor form” for public service leaders to think they needed more holiday than the thousands of public servants they managed.

“These are people that are paid a salary on average of $500,000 a year: in my view the public is being asked to pay more for less, and giving them an extra week’s holiday is a copout for a Government that should be consistent with its rules across all those that work in the public service.”

The Cabinet paper setting out the leave arrangement and elimination of performance pay said the new settings would see overall public service chief executive pay held to approximately $14 million by 2021/2022, compared to $18m under the previous terms.

Hughes said he had not taken an extra week of leave himself, as he was was “more than happy” with his salary package.

“I think I need to set an example in terms of that, I get paid significantly less than some public service chief executives and I’m very happy with that.”

Sam Sachdeva is Newsroom's national affairs editor, covering foreign affairs and trade, housing, and other issues of national significance.

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