Report on security consultants finds widespread failings across Govt agencies - 'We need to do better'

Anna Whyte
Source: 1News

Failings have been found across the public service after an investigation into the use of security consultants by Government agencies.

"While the problem is not widespread, we need to do better, and we will," said State Services Commissioner Peter Hughes.

The inquiry looked at 131 state sector agencies and investigated whether public servants or contractors breached the State Service code of conduct in their use of security consultants, including Thompson and Clark Investigations Limited (TCIL). The inquiry was led by Doug Martin and Simon Mount QC.

"Using third parties is not a way to contract out of the State Services Code of Conduct, a government agency should expect the same behaviour from contractors working on its behalf as it does of its own staff," Mr Hughes said.

ONN 1 News at 6 promo image

"It must be lawful, it must be proportionate, and it must be ethical."

Main findings:

The Public Service

"The inquiry uncovered system-wide failings across the public service, including a pattern of behaviour where public servants developed inappropriately close relationships with TCIL, and some evidence of poorly managed relationships with other providers," the report said.

The investigation found Greenpeace, the Green Party, the Mana Movement and some iwi in Northland, the East Coast and Taranaki were reported to government agencies by TCIL as "issues motivated groups", which treated them as security threats.

Mr Hughes has now ensured government agencies do not "undertake surveillance or information gathering activity without careful consideration".

Southern Response

It found Southern Response, a Crown company, acted inconsistently with the code of conduct when TCIL "on the agency's behalf, attended and recorded several closed meetings of insurance claimants.

"The recordings were made by a contractor who was not a licensed private investigator, which was potentially unlawful."

State Services Commissioner Peter Hughes laid a complaint with the police about the "potentially unlawful recording of the meeting".

"From what I have seen, the decision to record this public meeting by TCIL was ill judged and poorly managed," he said.

Ministry for Primary Industries

The inquiry found that two employees had secondary employment with TCIL, but both no longer work at MPI.

MPI had referred the incident to the Serious Fraud Office, which is investigating.

New Zealand Transport Agency (NZTA)

The investigation said that NZTA lacked oversight before 2017 of authorised access to the motor vehicle register. It found that it breached the code's "requirement to treat information with the level of care expected by the public".

Crown Law Office and Ministry of Social Development

Crown Law was said to have provided "broad instructions" to another private investigator regarding a 2007 civil case that alleged abuse in state care.

The broad instructions were "without explicit controls to protect privacy interests" and was found to breach the code due to the lack of the explicit controls.

"The Ministry was found in breach at the lower end given Crown Law had the primary responsibility to manage the case."

Mr Hughes has indicated he will be referring the findings of Crown Law to the Attorney General.

Ministry of Business and Innovation and Employment

MBIE was found to have failed to maintain an appropriate level of objectivity and impartiality, the investigation said.

"MBIE's management of its regulatory responsibilities in the petroleum and minerals area through the creation of Operation Exploration, showed evidence of poor regulatory practice."

Mr Hughes asked MBIE to consider if Operation Exploration should end.

TCIL's response: 

TCIL is considering "all aspects of report", says director Gavin Clark. 

"We have had the final report for less than 24 hours and will take some time to consider it in detail. However, we are pleased the report has confirmed our view throughout that 'there was no evidence of widespread surveillance by external security consultants on behalf of government agencies'."

"We accept the findings that some processes around how and when some work was carried out could have been more stringent.  An internal review of this is already underway but we maintain that there is a legitimate place for the work that we do, to help agencies keep their people safe.

"There are some findings we do not agree with, as noted in the report, as they don’t reflect the understanding that our industry and its Code operated to in years gone by. We will explain our disagreement with those findings to any future investigations that may result from this report."