New Zealand’s Public Service Commissioner has ruled that senior public servant, Steve Maharey’s politicised comments about the sacking of Health NZ chair, Rob Campbell, breached the Crown’s Code of Conduct.
Mr Maharey is chair of Pharmac, ACC, and Education New Zealand.
In a recently published column written by Mr Maharey, he made statements about the sacking of former Health NZ chair, Rob Campbell.
In advice received by the Government last night, the Commissioner characterised Mr Maharey’s actions as “unwise”, but at the “lower end of the spectrum”, Prime Minister, Chris Hipkins said today.
“Based on this advice, Ministers Ayesha Verrall, Jan Tinetti and Peeni Henare have confirmed this morning that they retain confidence in Mr Maharey and will keep him in his roles as Chair of Pharmac, Education New Zealand and ACC,” Mr Hipkins said.
“It’s critically important that the public service be politically neutral, and it’s not acceptable for people in these key roles to be publicly criticising the Opposition or any party.”
In Mr Maharey’s case, he proactively acknowledged the error, has undertaken to stop writing the column and apologised, Mr Hipkins confirmed.
“There’s a clear distinction between the cases of Maharey and Campbell in patterns of behaviour and future intent.”
“But it is important to make clear the Government’s expectation of all Crown Entity board chairs and members in the future.
“The principle of political neutrality of the public service is long-standing but the Public Service Act 2020 enshrined it as a core principle, and following that last year a Code of Conduct for Crown Entity Board members set out this principle in more detail.
“The issues arising from Mr Campbell and Mr Maharey’s comments have the potential to raise questions about a variety of actions by other Board members and Chairs.”
Public Service Minister, Andrew Little has written to the Commissioner requesting that Crown Entity Chairs be reminded of their and their boards’ obligations under the Code of Conduct for Crown Entity Board Members, issued under the Public Service Act, 2020.
“Where other potential breaches are brought to light, the responsible Minister will need to consider these individually, with support from the Commissioner,” said Mr Hipkins.
“However, particularly when they are historical and are at the lower end of the spectrum, my guidance to Ministers is that provided the person acknowledges and regrets the breach and is clear about adhering to the Code going forward, it should not necessarily result in the responsible minister losing confidence in them.
“No-one is perfect but it’s only right that board chairs and members understand the bounds of what they can say without jeopardising their ability to perform their roles.
“We have excellent people in public roles, including both former National and Labour MPs. No one thinks they don’t or shouldn’t hold their views.
“Their roles, however, come with obligations under the Code of Conduct and they are expected to exercise the appropriate levels of caution and discretion,” the Prime Minister said.