President's Column - What's good for the goose

Vol 44, No.3 | NZPA | Fri April 1st, 2011

“What we can demand as police is fairness and consistency. Strict accountability of police is appropriate, so let’s have the same level of consistency around public servants, judges and parliamentarians.”


In last month’s column, I pointed out the fact that organisations like the Independent Police Conduct Authority (IPCA) and State Services Commission (SSC), owner of the PriceWaterhouseCooper report, seem to be exempt from the normal rules of investigation which apply to Police; rules which require us to at least attempt to interview all the pertinent witnesses and participants in any event we are investigating.

Recent events show that senior State Services Commission staff are also seemingly exempt from the same conflict-of-interest standards, which they as overseers of the Commission of Inquiry (COI) into Police Conduct, demand of police.

Recently, a senior State Services employee, specifically assigned to oversee Police COI implementation, began a sexual relationship with one of the key Police staff members they were supposed to monitoring!

Furthermore, that person also reviewed an investigation carried out against the police officer, without apparently seeing or declaring any conflict of interest.

Then, when the matter came to light, the officer was pilloried and named and shamed in the media.

Unsurprisingly, the officer is no longer in the Police. Curiously, the State Services employee, who I would argue was considerably more conflicted than the police officer, was moved away from the Police oversight role.

However, as far as I am aware, that employee has not suffered any career consequences.

Who guards the guards one might ask? Are consequences directly commensurate with the number of newspaper column inches generated against the organisation?

Unfortunately, because media seem to focus their attention on Police, we consistently win that contest.

What we can demand as police is fairness and consistency. Strict accountability of police is appropriate, so let’s have the same level of consistency around public servants, judges and parliamentarians.

Just because errant police officers are better headlines than errant State Service employees who don’t have a plethora of oversight bodies, that is no excuse for inequity, especially when the behaviour is more conflicted.

Hopefully, we will see a new breed of leader enter the public service - and the Police too - who are prepared to stand up for their employees, and not go into a craven mea culpa every time accusations surface.

And importantly, ensure we make decisions based on facts, not perceptions.

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