Top Level Of Immigration And Labour Breach Rules

Top level of Immigration and Labour dept breach rules

Christopher Blake
Friday October 3 2008 – 04:22pm

Former Immigration boss Mary Anne Thompson repeatedly acted to help her Kiribati family members get travel documents and did not tell her manager the extent of her efforts, a report out today says.

The State Services Commission report released today found that her family received preferential treatment because of her position.

The report by SSC chief legal adviser David Shanks said Ms Thompson's actions were wrong and her boss, James Buwalda, who was Labour Department chief executive at the time, did not do enough when staff raised concerns about her actions.

The damning report into inappropriate behaviour at senior level is the first of a batch of reports looking into Immigration, particularly the Pacific Division set up under Ms Thompson's tenure.

Ms Thompson resigned earlier this year after revelations she did not hold a doctorate as previously believed and police are investigating.

New Labour Department chief executive Christopher Blake said the behaviour described in the report was “completely unacceptable”.

“This behaviour at the top meant that staff up to seven levels down the organisational hierarchy were put under inappropriate and unwelcome pressure.”

Ms Thompson was involved with six immigration procedures helping family members in 2004 and 2005 involving two visa waivers, extension of a visitor's permit, granting of a work permit, an unsuccessful residency application followed by a late successful application.

SSC commissioner Iain Rennie said it was clear the family members got preferential treatment. Ms Thompson breached conflict of interest disclosure rules and breached the department's code of conduct by improperly helping family. Evidence in the report shows she directly emailed staff about the cases and staff were told to approve applications against their better judgment.

The serious concerns were raised, but Mr Buwalda and the department failed to act effectively.

Ms Thompson reacted to the report saying she should have kept the chief executive informed and her actions were unwise but she did not try to exert influence.

“I am relieved to see the State Services Commission review completed, as this situation has had a profound effect on me and my family.”

Dr Buwalda said Ms Thompson's action had affected the reputation of Immigration Service staff and he regretted trusting her.

He accepted the finding that he did not deal with the issues in a timely or effective fashion and that his dealings with Ms Thompson were too informal and lenient given her conduct.

“My trust in Ms Thompson and the assurances she provided to me were misplaced. I got it wrong and I regret that I didn't deal more effectively and formally with Ms Thompson.”

Mr Rennie said had Dr Buwalda and Ms Thompson not already resigned they would have faced “consequences”.

The department had clear guidance on conflict of interest but it was not followed.

Ms Thompson was a “highly experienced and senior public servant,” and he found her failings “surprising”.

Dr Buwalda did raise some concerns with Ms Thompson but did not take it further and when he briefed incoming chief executive Graham Fortune he omitted to let him know there was more than one incident.

Mr Rennie said opportunities to deal with the serious conflict of evidence were missed.

The department was preparing advice for Cabinet to ensure other applicants did not miss out because Ms Thompson's family were processed ahead of them.

Mr Rennie said while there was conflicting evidence in the report overall the SSC was able to interview many people under oath and he was confident that the truth had been uncovered.

In 2005 Mr Blake said Ms Thompson had done nothing wrong — but today he said he did not have the full information at the time.

Mr Blake said Immigration was now led by Andrew Annakin and he was working to rebuild confidence. He did not think similar problems would arise again.

Mr Blake said the department was investigating “a handful” of cases where staff were directed to approve applications where there was not proper documentation.

An independent review of the Pacific Division being done by Ernst and Young after cases of fraud, bribery and theft would be completed this month.

The Auditor-General Kevin Brady is doing a wider inquiry into Immigration. That report would look at what ministers did or didn't know.

Ministers said they did not get involved because it was an employment matter.

Mr Rennie said there were more than employment matters but he would leave it to the Mr Brady to look at that.

Police have investigated Ms Thompson for claiming she held a doctorate when she did not and the file is now being independently legally reviewed.