Investigation focuses on MMR head’s conduct

Thursday April 12, 2018 Written by Published in Environment

The investigation into Ministry of Marine Resources secretary Ben Ponia is about his conduct and has nothing to do with stealing, dishonesty or corruption, says Public Service Commissioner Russell Thomas.

 

This week CINews sent Thomas several questions about Ponia’s recent suspension on full pay, and the investigation now being conducted by the Office of the Public Service Commissioner.

One question related to a previous investigation into Ponia’s involvement in an incident at an upmarket Auckland hotel during an international conference in 2015.

CINews asked Thomas for details of PSC’s policy regarding the employment of civil servants who had been investigated multiple times. He said it was possible to be suspended and investigated “many times.”

“But one is innocent until proven guilty.”

However, Thomas would not be drawn into predicting how long the present investigation would take.

“I wish I knew how long this process will take. However, I am hoping to complete it ASAP,” he wrote.

Following an investigation into the February 2015 incident, which happened at Auckland’s Stamford Hotel and involved the New Zealand police, Ponia was given a warning and told to stand down for overseas travel until June that year.

Thomas said at the time that Ponia had also been given a warning. He said disciplinary actions were covered by the civil service’s 2014 Code of Conduct Policy which provided for first, second and final written warnings. These stated that future breaches or failure to perform might result in instant dismissal.

However, Thomas would not reveal the details of Ponia’s alleged punishment.

He would not tell CINews whether Ponia had been given a first, second, or final written warning and also declined to say whether Ponia had been unable to travel overseas since the date of the incident, or whether the travel ban had been imposed as from the date of its announcement. He also declined to specify the date from when Ponia would be able to travel again.

The present investigation was heavily criticised in a letter to the editor of CINews on Tuesday. The letter-writer, who asked not to be named called the investigation “disturbing,” as Ponia and Thomas were related, casting doubt on the Public Service Commissioner’s ability to conduct an impartial investigation.

However, at a press conference on Monday, prime minister Henry Puna, who is also related to Ponia, told CINews he saw no conflict of interest.

Ponia has been suspended on full pay until the investigation ends. 

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