The core of the Government is in for a major upheaval with the announcement that yesterday that both the Prime Minister’s Chief of Staff and the Secretary of the Treasury, the single most powerful Government department are to leave their jobs within the next month.
The Chief of Staff, Mike Munro, will be replaced by his deputy Raj Nahna but the Secretary of Treasury vacancy will see a scramble among the capital’s top civil servants for this most coveted role.
And the betting is that Treasury could be about to have its first female Secretary.
The Munro resignation will have come as a surprise to many in the Beehive who will have thought he had overcome recent health issues.
But in a message to Beehive staff yesterday he said he would step down on June 7.
“Many of you will be aware that I had a fairly serious health issue of late,” the note said.
“I’ve got the all clear, but I am still in recovery mode and need to focus on getting well.
“I don’t feel I can give 100% to this job while I get myself right.
“I’ll be around for the next month as we undertake a transition, which will see Raj Nahna take on the COS role.
“He’ll do a terrific job, and I’m sure you’ll want to join me in wishing him all the best.”
The Chief of Staff job is a personal appointment by the Prime Minister, and the holder of the position is not a civil servant.
Since 1999, Munro is only the fourth person to have held the role.
Heather Simpson (famously known as H2) was Chief of Staff for all of Helen Clark’s term as Prime Minister and Wayne Eagleson for John Key’s. Craig Howie replaced him when Bill English became PM and Munro has been Chief of Staff since Ardern became Prime Minister.
It is a political role which increasingly under MMP has required that the person be the critical point of contact between the various parties that make up the government.
Nahna has been filling in in the role while Munro has been ill and accompanied the Prime Minister on her recent key trip to China.
He is a law graduate of Victoria University and worked for Chapman Tripp for four years before heading to Missouri and working as a volunteer on President Obama’s election campaign.
He joined the Labour Party in Parliament when they were in Opposition in 2009.
He replaces Munro who has a wealth of political experience having been a long time member of the Press Gallery for the Dominiion newspaper; Chief Press Secretary to Helen Clark and more recently heading up Todd Corporation’s Government Relations effort.
He has also aritten a novel based on his family’s history from their origins in Scotland in the 19th century.
Regarded as an affable and unflappable voice in the Beehive, Munro has brought his long political experience, particularly in government, to the new Labour Government.
The appointment of Treasury Secretary Gabriel Makhlouf as Governor of the Central Bank of Ireland will not only return him to his northern hemisphere roots but will also see him take up a place on the board of the European Central Bank, one of the world’s most important monetary policy institutions.
In his time in Wellington Gabriel Makhlouf has in some ways been a throwback to former Treasury Secretaries who had high public profiles like Henry Lang and Bernie Galvin.
He has had a high media profile and has been happy to engage in public debate on controversial economic policy matters.
Born in Cairo in 1960 to a Cypriot-British father and Greek-Armenian mother, Mr Makhlouf spent his earliest years travelling as his father pursued a career as United Nations official.
The holder of an honours degree in economics from the University of Exeter and a masters in industrial relations from the University of Bath, he began his career in Britain in 1984 as a tax inspector.
In his time at Treasury, the organisation has placed more emphasis on diversity and its development of the Wellbeing Budget this year will be watched, not just in New Zealand, for its groundbreaking role in attempting to redefine economic success.
Those factors may point to his likely successor.
Last night the talk in Wellington was that the current Chief Executive of the Ministry of the Environment, Vicky Roberston, might be a front runner.
She is a former Deputy Chief Executive of Treasury, and the Ministry for the Environment’s website says “her leadership experience extends to strategic organisational initiatives, such as the Treasury’s programme to develop stronger relationships with Maori. “
There are also five current deputy secretaries at Treasury — any of whom, presumably, would be candidates for the top job.
For the Prime Minister, these changes will be another opportunity for her to consolidate her authority on the government.
(This has been changed to reflect the fact The Treasury Secretary has not resigned but his contract term is about to run out.)