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Immigration Scandal-Update 4

05/05/2008

Looking for the Oughton Report, which supposedly released by the Labour Dept, Adam has as yet been unable to find, he came across this item, which he had previously missed, from the NZ Herald on May 3 2008. This is discussed below.

It has led Adam to conclude that there are further questions which he hopes the inquiry underway will address.

Some of these questions are amplifications of issues Adam has discussed in prior posts.

Some are new.

In March 2006, Immigration Service head Mary Anne Thompson went public about an investigation into 92 cases of staff misconduct.

“The department does not tolerate wrongdoing and all our employees know that. We take allegations very seriously and investigate them all,” she said.

The problems, she said, included theft, undeclared criminal convictions and inappropriate processing of family member applications.

So previously, the head of the Immigration Service had been telling the public about the strict standards of probity in force within the department and what from her remarks could be construed by the public as a zero tolerance approach.

Note also the last offence that she drew attention to.

What Ms Thompson did not say was that in that same month residency applications which she had helped fill out for her relatives were approved, despite being lodged too late for the Kiribati quotas, and not meeting policies.

So at a time when she was patting the department on the back for it’s rigourous approach, and by implication herself she was herself at best non-compliant and at worst guilty of offences she was disciplining others over.

Ms Thompson also did not say she herself had been warned about conflicts of interest by her chief executive after she sought help in 2004 and 2005 for visa waivers to get family members from Kiribati into New Zealand.

The hypocrisy was compounded by the warning over conflicts of interest noted above.

The Inquiring Mind is very interested in why Ms Thompson only received a warning. Why was not more severe action taken? Especially as it is implied in the article that she did this at least twice.

A year later, that same chief executive, James Buwalda, discovered irregularities in the residency case and put it under the scrutiny of former justice secretary David Oughton.

Now the article gives some more detail on the 2004/2005 incidents. These were covered in the Sunday Star Times also.

In December 2004 and May 2005 Mary Anne Thompson sought help from immigration officers for relatives to travel to New Zealand on holiday. The relatives – including Kauri Katekeimoa, his wife and child – were given visa waivers, a process commonly only used in emergencies.

To this writer this has the appearance of abuse of process, what is an emergency about a holiday?

When former Labour Department CEO James Buwalda discovered Thompson’s involvement, he counselled her not to become involved in decision-making in matters concerning her own family because the process used had raised the perception of conflicts of interest.

But why had she done so in the first place?

Was she not aware of policy and code of ethics requirements in this matter?

Surely as an experienced public servant she knew that such actions were not acceptable?

Why was she only counselled?

Such action is probably acceptable for a new, junior officer who might perhaps be excused, but a veteran public servant and head of one of the most sensitive government services?

Why the approach of perception of conflict of interest, surely seeking officials help for family members in the form of a direct intervention by herself is a conflict of interest?

Mr Katekeimoa then was granted a 12-month temporary working visa, due to expire in February 2006.

Why?

On what basis?

On whose authority?

This gentleman is quite probably a worthwhile addition to the NZ community, that is not the point. It would appear that his entry was not on the normal basis.

On 16 November 2005 three applications for residency arrived at Immigration NZ’s Manukau branch, where staff were processing applications for the new Pacific Access Category quotas. The applications for Mr Katekeimoa’s family included a form signed by Ms Thompson declaring her help in filling them out.

The applications were lodged nearly eight months after the March 31 closing date for applications under the quota system for Kiribati citizens, which had 75 places.

Three staff interviewed by former justice secretary David Oughton in his investigation said a senior Manukau official took the application to staff to be processed.

The first initially returned it, saying it was late and should not be considered.

However, in mid-December, the senior official and a staff member from National Office returned the file and instructed it to be entered. One officer wrote “as instructed by [the senior officer]” which Mr Oughton was told was an indication of strong disagreement with the direction.

A second staff member recalled being taken into a closed office and asked how a residency application which did not fit policy could be processed. After seeing the application, he/she advised it should not be dealt with because it was late.

The third staff member – who had responsibility for the Kiribati applications – also questioned the application, but was told senior officials had directed it be processed. The staffer continued with the processing, but Mr Oughton records he/she “was then and still is disturbed by the unfairness of it.”

Residency for Mrs Thompson’s family members was given in March 2006. It was not included as part of the Kiribati quota, nor in any other residency category and Mr Oughton said no other reasons for approval were recorded.

It is hard not to reach a conclusion that staff felt ‘heavied’ by the visit of a senior officer, and the relationship to Ms Thompson. Ms Thompson surely cannot have been oblivious of the inference that might be drawn from her having completed the forms, especially as she had been ‘counselled’ previously in this area.

Later that year, an internal audit picked up on irregularities in the case and Mr Buwalda ordered the independent investigation. It was completed in April 2007 – by which stage Mr Buwalda had left – and found Ms Thompson had not tried to influence the process after signing the form. In April this year, Ms Thompson’s role in the matter became public.

Mr Buwalda’s successor, Department of Labour head Chris Blake, revealed the residency applications were given despite not qualifying under the policy, but that Ms Thompson was cleared of attempts to influence it. He refused to release the Oughton report for privacy reasons. He said the department took allegations of conflict of interest seriously, but the matter had been dealt with and “there is no basis for re-opening these particular investigations or conducting a new inquiry”.

The Oughton report decided Ms Thompson had not sought to influence the decision and had no involvement beyond helping with the forms and signing to show she had. Mr Oughton does not pass any judgment on whether he considered the signature alone had any influence.

Now, Adam is a simple person. He cannot conceive why the conclusion was reached that Ms Thompson did not influence the process, even if such influence was unintentional on her part. Indeed, as noted in earlier posts, there was/is a clear trail of relationships from Ms Thompson to other parties involved in the approval.

Now it may well be that Ms Thompson did nothing to directly or indirectly influence the process, but by associating herself with the applications it is not unreasonable to assume that staff may have drawn a different inference.

Further, it does seem as though in reaching his conclusions Oughton gave no consideration to the fact that Ms Thompson appears to have performed the form filling despite previous counselling and advice not to be involved in the applications of relatives.

In addition, if the relatives permit to be in New Zealand were granted despite being outside policy, why as a matter of principle have they not been rescinded?

The senior official who ordered it to be pushed through was unable to explain why it was processed in the way it was, but told Mr Oughton he/she: “rejects any suggestion that [the] decision to have the late application processed was in any way influenced by the Deputy Secretary’s signature appearing on the form”.

However, the staff who processed it had concerns.

Mr Oughton’s report states the three staff were relieved the matter was being reviewed.

“They regard it as reflecting badly on them, their office, and the integrity of the residency permit system. They are not persuaded the application was not given special treatment because of [Ms Thompson’s signature].”

Mr Oughton’s report also shows belated acceptance from Ms Thompson that the power of her signature alone may have been enough to influence staff.

Again Adam is at a loss then over the conclusion drawn, perhaps if he were able to find the report, Adam would understand the reasoning more clearly?

Public servants are governed by codes of conduct designed to prevent conflicts of interest.

In 2004 and early 2005 when Ms Thompson helped with the visa waivers, the Immigration Service code of conduct did not require employees to disclose potential conflicts of interest to their bosses.

To Adam’s mind that does not excuse the behaviour, especially as Ms Thompson was counselled about this. In any event if you have the skills to be appointed to the roles she had held, one would expect that the appointee would fully understand that she had to be above reproach.

However, a new code of conduct from November 2005 – the same month the applications were lodged – did contain such a requirement.

The code of conduct of the State Services Commission which sets out rules for all public servants says they should avoid circumstances in which their personal interests conflict with the interests of the department. “The public must have no basis on which to believe that decisions are made or policies are applied unevenly.

“Public servants should inform their chief executive where any actual or potential conflict of interest arises that impairs the full, effective and impartial discharge of their official duties.”

THE State Services Commission is investigating all aspects of the case.

Adam wonders why Ms Thompson has not been placed on leave pending completion of the inquiry?

Adam is pleased with the response of the PSA who have welcomed the inquiry, as the matter raised ethical and trust issues. He applauds the action taken by Minister Cosgrove in extending the remit of the inquiry. Adam is at a loss to understand how such an experienced and undoubtedly valuable member of the public service finds herself in this position.

[Update: A further update can be found

https://adamsmith.wordpress.com/2008/05/08/584/

here]

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Posts on the Immigration Scandal by adamsmith1922 at The Inquiring Mind

Immigration Scandal

Update 1

Update 2

Update 3

Update 4

Update 5

Update 6 (essentially a note of an event – not a detailed comment)

Update 7

Update 8 – similar to Number 6

Update 9

Update 10

Update 11

Update 12

Update 13

Update 14

One Comment
  1. 05/05/2008 17:52

    Well done Adam. I don’t know if you receive Murray McCully’s weekly missive, but he has had many uncomplimentary things to say about James Buwalda over the last few years – in fact he know routinely calls him “James Bewildered” – for reasons which now seem obvious! Meanwhile, Keeping Stock believes that Mary Anne Thompson is hoist by her own petard!

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