MED defends 'revolving door'

The Ministry of Economic Development has defended its employment practices

The Ministry of Economic Development has defended its employment practices following concerns about staff leaving for influential roles in private companies.

“We are aware that there are necessary constraints on people sharing commercial or sensitive information when they come into or leave an organisation. Our contracts contain a confidentiality clause which continues after an employee leaves the Ministry. This clause states that all information obtained during employment is confidential, unless it is publicly available,” says spokesperson Alastair Stewart in an email to Computerworld.

“When an employee informs us of their intention to leave, we may, if the situation requires it, place them on non-sensitive work, restrict their access to our IT systems, and have them work from home.”

In December former Ultra Fast Broadband programme manager Nick Manning left the MED to take up the role of government relations manager for Chorus. An online Computerworld article about Manning’s new position prompted a number of comments concerned about the “revolving door” between government and commercial positions.

Some argued that it is inevitable that people will switch between public and private roles as there is limited expertise in a country with a small population.

Others, such as former TUANZ CEO Ernie Newman, suggested the MED consider a implementing a stand-down period in cases such as Manning’s as “public perception is crucial, especially when billion dollar deals are involved.”

“The ‘small talent pool’ argument has merit. Yet the reality is that a person who has worked as intimately as Nick within the top level government process has insights of enormous commercial value to a subsequent employer. Ditto earlier examples such as the famed industry shuttlecock Ralph Chivers,” Newman writes.

“Fortunately both are people of very good character who I believe would never directly betray a confidence. But the reality is that they have insights gained from interacting with other telcos which will be highly beneficial to Chorus — even if they don’t “reveal” them to the new employer, you can’t stop them knowing and factoring these insights into their actions.”

Stewart says there are no mandatory stand-down periods in current employment contracts, “though it is an option we may consider on a case-by-case basis, if a role required it. A discussion around pay (during the stand-down period) would occur at this time.”

Career advancement

Chivers, who is currently Institute of Directors CEO, and who has held a number of roles at the MED and Telecom, posted a comment in reply to Newman.

“In most cases people make changes to advance their career, or build experience, or find a new challenge. Often that means going elsewhere. I’ve always found going into government a good place to build experience of a particular type or to take on a big challenge, but unless you’re a career policy-wonk the opportunities for growth and development in a policy-oriented Ministry are limited. And because of the scale issues there isn’t enough to keep really good specialists going for a long period of time,” Chivers writes.

“Whether you’re a long term industry person or a long term government person, getting experience in the other is invaluable and gives you a much better well-rounded perspective on life — it makes you more effective in whichever role you are in. I’ve often advised policy managers to do a tour of duty in industry and vice-versa. Handled appropriately I think this is overall a good thing. And I guess this is the nub of the issue: what does ‘handled appropriately’ mean?”

Stewart says the MED employs people from the private sector, “as they bring important skills and knowledge that help us do our job as a business-facing organisation better. This sharing of skills and experience is something we value and we would anticipate that an understanding of the workings of government and public sector experience would be of similar benefit to businesses.”

See also: UFB programme manager off to Chorus

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