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Apology for MFAT staff over leak probe

NZ Newswire logoNZ Newswire 6/12/2016 Dave Williams

The state services commissioner has apologised to two senior Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade managers over a controversial and flawed inquiry into the leak of confidential documents.

Commissioner Peter Hughes issued the unreserved apology to Derek Leask and Nigel Fyfe on Wednesday for the investigation which smeared the two men while under his predecessor Iain Rennie's watch.

A confidential compensation settlement, which covers the pair's legal costs, has also been agreed.

In 2012, Mr Rennie commissioned Dame Paula Rebstock to look into who gave the documents, including highly sensitive cabinet papers, to Labour MP Phil Goff amid a row over plans to axe 300 jobs at MFAT.

The resulting report pinpointed the likely leaker as a temporary worker in the State Services Commission.

However, it also singled out two senior MFAT managers who it said were less than professional about opposing the proposed job cuts and plans to close two European embassies.

They could easily be identified as long-serving public servant Mr Fyfe and former diplomat Mr Leask.

In June, Ombudsman Ron Paterson said the half-million dollar report was flawed and he recommended the apology and compensation.

Mr Hughes on Wednesday said he had decided the compensation amount and personally apologised to the men and their families.

"Harm was done to the reputation of both men and I am here to apologise for that," he told reporters.

The online version of the Rebstock report now has the offending section redacted and a link to the ombudsman's report.

Mr Hughes said that while he accepted the ombudsman's findings, he was also concerned there had been an unacceptable leak of confidential documents and phone calls to Mr Goff.

All public service bosses would be reminded of their obligations of political neutrality and how concerns should be raised.

Mr Rennie finished his term as commissioner seven days after the ombudsman's recommendations were made public.

Mr Hughes said Mr Rennie committed to implement the ombudsman's recommendations before he left, but played no further part in the apology.

"I'm the state services commissioner, this is my responsibility. It's not appropriate that he do."

Mr Hughes also said he would continue to use Dame Paula in future as she had immense talent and ability.

"This is a very large report. What we are talking about is one section in a six-section report. Mistakes have been made, I am acknowledging that, I am taking responsibility for it and I am doing my best to put it right.

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