Public service

Civil Service Commissioner announces findings of Kāinga Ora review

The public housing agency, Kāinga Ora, failed to meet expected standards of political neutrality when it published an article about a political candidate, Civil Service Commissioner Peter Hughes has found.

The commissioner said Kāinga Ora was wrong when he looked at the principle of political neutrality, which is fundamental to the New Zealand civil service.

Concerns were raised last year about the conduct of Kāinga Ora officials regarding an article he sponsored about community building in his development of Hobsonville Point. Kāinga Ora wrote the article in mid-May 2020, for publication on the oneroof.co.nz website on May 27. The article was about the Hobsonville Point Gets Ready Group, represented by Arena Williams (now MP). The article was published despite Ms Williams having informed Kāinga Ora that she was close to announcing that she would stand as a candidate in the 2020 general election. This announcement was made on May 29.

Mr Hughes said Kāinga Ora had two opportunities to get it right. He should not have published the article in the first place and when Ms Williams announced her candidacy, Kāinga Ora should have withdrawn the article. This does not happen. It remained online throughout the 2020 election campaign.

“Kāinga Ora failed to do the right thing when he learned that the person who was to feature in an article sponsored by Kāinga Ora was a candidate,” Mr Hughes said.

“The email suggesting the agency claim it was unaware of Ms Williams’ candidacy was unacceptable. All parties agree.

“I expect public service agencies to consider whether it is appropriate for public funds to be used to give positive exposure to a political candidate in this way. Government advertising should always be unbiased and free from promotion partisan of government policy and political arguments.

Mr Hughes said the chief executive of Kāinga Ora initially got it wrong on the issue of political neutrality. The chief executive has since assured him that he has taken appropriate steps to ensure the incident does not happen again..

“I’m happy that the GM owned it, fixed it and learned from it. That’s what I expect.

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