17 December 2010

An article in the Washington Times, proposing that Inspectors General in US government agencies be given subpoena powers to gather evidence of misconduct, is a reminder of the extensive powers which the State Services Commissioner has to investigate integrity breaches in the New Zealand State Services, and particularly, in the Public Service.

The article suggests that more effective enforcement could be achieved in cases of fraud, waste and abuse if Inspectors General could compel witnesses to provide statements.

Unsung, and not used to date in code of conduct matters, the State Services Commission has this capability in the case of State Services agencies.  These powers facilitate  inquiries into incidents  (commonly responding to a statutory direction by the Prime Minister) and are equally available when investigating misconduct or potential breaches of the State services code of conduct.

However the outcome of using subpoena type powers would be quite different in New Zealand.  An Inspector General gathers evidence which would usually be used in a Department of Justice prosecution.  By contrast, if evidence of criminal activity is uncovered in an investigation by the State Services Commissioner, the matter would be referred to the police for further inquiry.

The NZ Auditor General expects that where any State sector agency suspects internal fraud, the matter is to be referred to the appropriate law enforcement authority – in practice, the Police or the Serious Fraud Office. The broad powers of the State Services Commissioner perhaps mean that Office should be recognised as an “appropriate law enforcement authority” and take an active role in investigating suspected corruption.