14 February 2011

New Zealand has not experienced the disruptive abuse of power which can result when former officials apply information and skills acquired in public service roles to advance private interests. Most OECD countries have measures that constrain the ability of officials, and especially former members of government, from marketing their “inside” knowledge. Few countries share the New Zealand view that very few circumstances can justify constraints on the right to work.  By comparison, Canada has very rigorous prohibitions.

Circumstances in a US Supreme Court matter this week illustrate the effect of the Federal government revolving door prohibitions.  A law professor took leave left from Harvard University to work for the Justice Department. He then joined a law firm. In papers filed in the court this month he was listed as  counsel in a case against a government agency. He was required to withdraw from the case because of a statutory prohibition on former senior executive branch officials communicating with their former department with an intent to influence the department….

Some commentators believe that the circumstances were not intended to be covered by the legislation. There would certainly be no restriction on a former New Zealand State servant engaging in forensic advocacy even relating to matters where  they previously had  developed policy advice for government. The only statutory restrictions in New Zealand relate to officials becoming licensed immigration agents.