31 July 2012 

The Serious Fraud Office is losing its chief executive. Yesterday Adam Feeley indicated that after three years with the SFO he was taking up the appointment as chief executive of the Queenstown Lakes District Council.

The resignation of a Public Service chief executive creates the opportunity for the State Services Commissioner to reconsider structural and governance arrangements, including the leadership needs of the agency. That, now, may well coincide with measures to put aspects of Better Public Services into place.

The Better Public Services proposals identify advantages in the creation of departmental agencies functioning under the umbrella of a host Department. There is reference to the British practice. The British Serious Fraud Office is an executive agency falling within the Law Officers’ Departments – being an aggregation of departments for which the Attorney General and the Solicitor General are responsible – the equivalents of the New Zealand Crown Law  Office,  Crown Solicitors and the Serious Fraud Office.

Will this be something that may be relevant here, despite the recent recommendations on reorganising the Crown Law Office with which, presumably, the recently announced Solicitor General will have been tasked, and the decision four years ago not to fold the SFO into NZ Police as the previous government had proposed?  Or perhaps the Serious Fraud Office could be a departmental agency of the Ministry of Justice or the NZ Police? The departmental agency model anticipates these bodies being listed in a new schedule to the State Sector Act and the host agency being a Public Service Department listed on Schedule 1 to that Act.  So that will rule out NZ Police as the host.

Hosting the SFO within NZ Police would disregard lessons from other jurisdictions, that a dedicated specialist agency is necessary – whether it be fraud specific or charged more broadly with anti corruption. Victoria’s Independent Broad- based Anti Corruption Commission which began operations on 1 July is an example. And the UN Convention Against Corruption expects States parties to have enforcement capacity in addition to police.

New Zealand has indicated a commitment to UNCAC. However it is still one of 16 countries standing outside the Convention.  The other OECD countries yet to ratify UNCAC are Germany, Japan and the Czech Republic. We are in league with other non signatories including Somalia, Eritrea, Sudan and North Korea!