The public housing agency, Kāinga Ora, fell short of the standards expected on political neutrality when it published an article about a political candidate, Public Service Commissioner, Peter Hughes has found.
The Commissioner said Kāinga Ora got it wrong when it considered the principle of political neutrality, which is fundamental in the New Zealand Public Service.
Concerns were raised last year about the conduct of Kāinga Ora officials regarding an article it sponsored on community spirit at its Hobsonville Point development. Kāinga Ora drafted the article in mid-May 2020, for publication on the oneroof.co.nz website on 27 May.
The focus of the article was the Hobsonville Point Gets Ready Group, represented by Arena Williams (now a Member of Parliament). The article was published despite Ms Williams advising Kāinga Ora that she was not far away from announcing that she would be standing as a candidate in the 2020 general election. That announcement was made on 29 May.
Mr Hughes said Kāinga Ora had two opportunities to get it right. It should not have published the article in the first place and the moment Ms Williams announced her candidacy, Kāinga Ora should have taken the article down. This did not happen. It remained online throughout the 2020 election campaign.
“Kāinga Ora failed to do the right thing when it became aware the person it was to feature in a Kāinga Ora sponsored article was a candidate,” said Mr Hughes.
“The email suggesting the agency pretend it did not know about Ms Williams’ candidacy was unacceptable. All parties agree.
“I expect Public Service agencies to consider whether it is appropriate for public funds to be used to give positive exposure to a political candidate in this way. Government advertising must always be impartial and free from partisan promotion of government policy and political argument.”
Mr Hughes said Kāinga Ora’s chief executive initially got it wrong on the issue of political neutrality. The chief executive has since assured him he has taken appropriate action to ensure there will not be a repeat of the incident.
“I’m satisfied the chief executive has owned it, fixed it and learned from it. That is what I expect.”