Do we still need an independent inquiry into how an independent inquiry was set up

Conflict-of-interest allegations are best resolved by an independent authority, as happened when the Independent Police Conduct Authority examined a senior Dunedin police officer’s role in a case in which a man died after taking morphine in April 2016.

A judge described the police investigation as ‘‘haphazard’’ and noted the veteran officer was a friend of the dead man’s father. But the IPCA ruled there was no conflict of interest.

It seemed we would be treated to an independent inquiry into the controversial appointment of Wally Haumaha as deputy police commissioner. But this turned into an Opposition clamour for an inquiry into the process that resulted in Dr Paula Kingi heading the Haumaha inquiry.

The matter was resolved this afternoon by the announcement in Parliament that Kingi was stepping down.

Conflict of interest issues were first raised in this case after it emerged that Haumaha was briefly a candidate for NZ First.

Internal Affairs Minister Tracey Martin told Newshub Nation she had no idea Haumaha intended running for NZ First in 2005 and denied any conflict of interest.

“I don’t know Wally at all, but secondly, I’m actually setting up an independent government inquiry. So I won’t be doing the inquiry; I’ll be appointing somebody under a terms of reference that is going as an oral item to Cabinet on Monday, and then that person will be inquiring into the process of which State Services Commission gangs and provides information to ministers for them to make a decision on appointment. So it’s not actually into any individual; it’s into a process.”

Good-oh.  An independent inquiry would sort things out.

But this week Martin was questioned by the Nats about the process that led to the appointment of Dr Pauline Kingi as chair of this inquiry.

Chris Bishop: How can she have confidence in the process that appointed Dr Pauline Kingi when she has publicly endorsed Mr Wally Haumaha 23 times for a range of attributes, including for leadership, governance, public safety, crime prevention, and stakeholder management?

Martin:  Dr Kingi has declared that she knew Mr Haumaha in a professional capacity when she was a highly respected public servant. She has also declared that she attended a tangi either in 2015 or 2016 …. Dr Kingi has declared that she knew of Mr Haumaha in a professional capacity when she was a highly respected public servant.

She has also declared that she attended a tangi in either 2015 or 2016 that Mr Haumaha also attended. Dr Kingi has signed, as is standard procedure, a declaration confirming that she has no conflict of interest in relation to the appointment—which, I remind the member, is into the process by the State Services Commission around appointment processes.

If the member is asking if LinkedIn is a usual port of call for Government departments to ascertain the suitability of an inquiry chair, then I would have to say no. Rather than resort to social media, this Government looks to the substantial CVs of candidates and the fullness of their service to their communities and their country, and Dr Kingi is a New Zealander that has given great service to her country. I would suggest this is why the 1999 Shipley-led National Government awarded Dr Kingi the Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit.

Bishop: When Dr Pauline Kingi was appointed to lead the independent inquiry into the appointment process around Mr Wally Haumaha, was she aware that Dr Kingi had publicly endorsed Mr Haumaha 23 times on LinkedIn, for every skill Mr Haumaha has listed on that website, and in some cases being the only person to endorse him, and that Mr Haumaha has endorsed Dr Kingi on at least three occasions for her skills listed on the LinkedIn website?

Martin: I was unaware of the LinkedIn endorsements until my office was contacted by media this morning. I requested that the chief executive contact Dr Kingi to clarify the suggested conflict. While Dr Kingi could not remember making these endorsements, she did confirm … that she had, like many New Zealanders, set up a LinkedIn account when it was first launched …

Martin then said:

It was common practice at that time—16 years ago—for Māori professionals to support each other on this new medium, through endorsement.

But as Bishop pointed out, the endorsement function on LinkedIn was only invented and established in 2012 – “so references to LinkedIn profiles 15 years ago are an utter irrelevance”.

He further asked for “a categorical assurance” that Dr Kingi was not involved in recommending promotions or appointments of Mr Haumaha in her role as a member of the Auckland district advisory taumata and her role assisting the Auckland district police with police recruitment?

Martin: I can give an assurance of the complete and proper process around the appointment of Dr Kingi as the chair of an independent inquiry into the process by which the State Services Commission provides information to Ministers for appointment.

The Nats were unsatisfied and demanded Kingi be immediately stood down as chair of the inquiry into Haumaha’s the appointment.

National’s Police spokesperson Chris Bishop (doing a good job of point-scoring) said:

“Dr Kingi has publicly endorsed Mr Haumaha on LinkedIn for 23 skills, including leadership, crime prevention and stakeholder management.

“In fact, she has endorsed him for every skill Mr Haumaha has listed – in some cases she is the only person to have endorsed him for a particular skill.

“Dr Kingi cannot possibly lead an independent inquiry into Mr Haumaha’s appointment.

“There is a clear and unequivocal conflict of interest, and the Government should never have appointed Dr Kingi in the first instance.”

National accordingly sought an inquiry into the process that led to the appointment of the chair of the inquiry which will be looking into the process that led to the appointment of Haumaha as deputy police commissioner…

Got that?

While we wait to see what transpires in the aftermath of Kingi’s resignation, let’s muse on what Martin said about Maori professionals endorsing fellow Maori professionals.  Merit, it seems, is not necessarily an overriding consideration.

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