Politics

Handley receives payout after Curran’s CTO job bungle

Derek Handley has received compensation from the Government after it reneged on a job offer to make him New Zealand’s first chief technology officer.

In a post on social networking website LinkedIn, Handley confirmed he had been offered and accepted the role, before the Government changed its mind due to concerns about former minister Clare Curran’s handling of the employment process.

Curran was sacked from Cabinet, and later resigned as a minister entirely, after failing to record a meeting with Handley to discuss the CTO position - the second time, after Carol Hirschfeld, her office had responded incorrectly to written parliamentary questions as a result.

In the post, Handley said he had been “offered and accepted the position as the first Chief Technology Officer for New Zealand” a month ago.

“I felt deeply grateful and incredibly privileged for this important responsibility to help shape the future of our country.

“I have for many years repeated that we are in need of a clearer vision and roadmap as to how we will navigate the technological transformations and opportunities ahead, many of which will be brought upon us from outside of New Zealand’s borders.”

“Given the unnecessary and sustained lack of transparency around the process and building pressure to rethink the approach, their decision to stop the process is understandable."

However, he had been “deeply disappointed” to learn this week that the Government would not follow through with his appointment, following its review of the process after Curran’s resignation.

“Given the unnecessary and sustained lack of transparency around the process and building pressure to rethink the approach, their decision to stop the process is understandable,” Handley said.

The weeks of scrutiny had been “a distressing time” for himself and his family, who returned to Auckland last weekend so he could take up the position after 10 years living in New York.

Handley said he had been offered a settlement of three months pay, plus reimbursement of his costs, as a result of the Government terminating his contract. The Government has confirmed that is made up of $100,000 in salary and $7500 in expenses.

Handley said he and his family had decided to donate the money to a fund supporting digital access for communities.

Derek Handley. Photo: Getty Images

'A broad background'

Defending himself against criticism of his suitability for the role, Handley said he had a “broad background” which included work with technology start-ups, co-founding global non-profit The B Team, and work as a “thought partner” at a number of universities.

“I believed this experience spanning new industries, new-economy companies, investing, technology, sustainability, social innovation, large scale corporations, education, vision, consensus building and strategy across New Zealand and globally may have been of service to New Zealand as the CTO.

“That, combined with a deep desire to return home to New Zealand to serve our country in some capacity, is why I applied for the role.”

“What’s clear is that we need to step back and have a good look at the role and see how it fits in with the other work being done in the digital transformation space."

In a statement, Government Digital Services Minister Megan Woods said the Government had "put a full stop on the process" as it reconsidered the objectives of the CTO role.

“What’s clear is that we need to step back and have a good look at the role and see how it fits in with the other work being done in the digital transformation space."

Woods said the Government's decision did not reflect on Handley's capabilities as a candidate, with the State Services Commission of the view the appointment process was "suitably robust".

"Derek showed energy and passion for the development of a digital strategy for New Zealand."

The Government was honouring the agreement it had come to with Handley in paying him compensation, Woods said.

Payout appalling - National

National's state services spokesman Nick Smith said the payout was "appalling" and a reflection of the Government's incompetent handling of the CTO appointment process.

“The process around appointing a Chief Technology Officer has been a shambles from the beginning. It involved secret meetings and emails, the resignation of minister Clare Curran and now we’re paying Derek Handley around $100,000 for a job he never even started."

Smith said the Government needed to come clean about any "hidden emails" of Curran's or Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern - referring to Curran's confirmation this week that she and Handley may have exchanged further, unreleased, emails - and apologise to taxpayers and Handley for wasting their money and his time respectively.

“The CTO is the flagship of the Government’s IT policy and was budgeted to cost the taxpayer over $500,000 per year. Now if it still goes ahead we can add a pay out of over $100,000 because of the Government’s incompetence."

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