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Lying in unison (A) 2013-147.1

4 June 2013



When James Buwalda joined the New Zealand Department of Labour in mid-2003 it was in the midst of a controversy. An Algerian refugee who had been identified as a potential security risk was being detained in a maximum security prison. The details of the case were kept confidential not only from the public, but also from employees at the department, namely the communication manager of the New Zealand Immigration Service (NZIS), whose security clearance was not high enough. Secret though the case may have been it was not well-kept, with the media, the communication manager, and the federal Opposition all aware that something was going on. Few within the department, however, appeared to question the decision to withhold information. For the moment, the department would continue to deny that anything unusual was going on, decline Freedom of Information requests, and cooperate with the Ombudsman who was investigating the refusal. All seemed in order, until a facetious annotation in an unedited media log claimed that “everyone agreed to lie in unison”. In his first week on the job, Buwalda was already launching an investigation into the conduct of his new team.

Besides the obvious ethical issues, this case can be used for a variety of discussion purposes, many of them centring around accountability, for instance, the relationship between accountability and employer responsibility. An examination of the issues involved in the conducting or and participating in inquiries will also generate some lively discussion, as most public sector managers will experience an inquiry in one way or another. Part A discusses the foreground to the case and the details of how it was communication to the public.

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Part B discusses the aftermath of Buwalda’s report, and the Secretary’s intention to use it as a catalyst to reorganisation, though in the face of scrutiny.

Authors: Meg Prebble
Published Date: 4 June 2013
Author Institution: Victoria University of Wellington, ANZSOG
Featured Content Length: 2
Content Length: 9
Product Type: Case with teaching note, Part A, Primary resources