$100k for the job that wasn’t

Credit Mark Mitchell

I thought it was a little strange when Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern cancelled two scheduled interviews for this weekend citing a diary mix-up.  I would have thought she had plenty of PR people who could keep those things straight for her, but apparently not. I shrugged and carried on with my day.

Then a few hours later, the latest botch-up hit the news and it made sense. She’s avoiding the media in case they want to ask nasty little questions. Questions like why are we having to pay $107,500 to someone for a job that was, and now isn’t?

Newsie reports the story.  Quote:

Govt to pay Derek Handley $100k after CTO offer retracted.

Tech entrepreneur Derek Handley was offered the role of the country’s first Chief Technology Officer, but will now be paid out $100,000 after the offer was retracted by the government.

The government has called a halt to the appointment process for the position.

Megan Woods, the Minister for Government Digital Services, said a full-stop had been put on the process as the government reconsidered its approach to digital transformation.

Mr Handley, a New Zealand entrepreneur, will be paid out $100,000 – three months of the one-year contract for services – and $7500 for any set-up expenses.

In a message posted on LinkedIn, Mr Handley said it had been a distressing time for his family who moved to Auckland from New York for the role.[…]  End of quote.

I can’t say I blame him being disappointed, that’s quite an upheaval bringing the family from New York back to New Zealand for a job that has now, well, vanished.

But this all gets very murky and confusing.

As you will recall, Clare Curran was sacked from her Open Government and Government Digital Services portfolios because she failed to record a meeting she had with Derek Handley back in February this year and failed to disclose the meeting in answer to a written question.

In an article in a Newspaper on 24th August about Ms Curran’s sacking, Ms Ardern was quoted as saying:

The State Services Commission will examine the CTO appointment process to ensure the Handley-Curran meeting had no bearing on process or outcome. The SCC will report back before the appointment is made.

Handley remains a candidate for the CTO position. An appointment is expected to be made shortly.  End of quote.

Yet when we read the statement from Derek Handley posted on LinkedIn today, he says:  quote:

One month ago I was offered and accepted the position as the first Chief Technology Officer for New Zealand.  End of quote.

So if I get my diary out, one month ago from 14th September would mean that Derek was offered and accepted the job on 14th August. 

And yet we have Ms Ardern saying on 24th August that Handley remains a candidate for the CTO position.

This is very confusing, and there are a number of questions that Ms Ardern absolutely needs to address.

Ms Ardern, can you please clarify exactly when Derek Handley was offered the job. If the date given in answer to that question doesn’t match your statement from 24th August that ‘an appointment is expected to be made shortly’, please explain.

What I’m also confused about is why this role is now suddenly not required. It was created back in December 2017 and signed off by the prime minister. Months were spent screening potential candidates, conducting interviews, only for the job to be pulled nine months down the track, after an appointment has finally been made. That just makes no sense.

Let’s go back to the Newsie article.  Quote:

Ms Woods, who took over the ministerial role from the embattled Clare Curran, said she had asked officials to review the CTO position and to make sure there were no overlaps with any other existing roles.

“Today we’ve put a full stop on this process.

“What’s clear is that we need to step back and have a good look at the role and see how it fits in with the other work being done in the digital transformation space.[…]

[…] “However as the new Minister I have asked officials to review the CTO role and provide advice on the best ways to drive a forward-looking digital agenda for New Zealand.  End of quote.

Sure Megan, that all sounds very plausible.  About as plausible as Jacinda having a diary conflict.

Nick Smith sums it up pretty well in the Newsie story:  Quote: 

National Party state services spokesperson Nick Smith said the process around appointing a Chief Technology Officer had been “a shambles from the beginning”.

“It involved secret meetings and emails, the resignation of Minister Clare Curran and now we’re paying Derek Handley around $100,000 for a job he never even started.

The government must now come clean with the hidden emails from Clare Curran and the Prime Minister so we know the full story of how badly this was handled.

“The Government should apologise to taxpayers for wasting their money and Mr Handley for wasting his time. He’s right to have criticised the process for lacking in transparency.”  End of quote.

All this from what was promised to be the most open and transparent government ever.


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