Both Finance Minister Grant Robertson and State Services Commissioner Peter Hughes were full of praise at the Beehive last night for beleaguered Treasury Secretary Gabriel “Gabs” Makhlouf.
They were the two speakers at a Beehive function attended by a who’s who of the capital’s power structure to farewell Makhlouf whose contract at Treasury expires in two weeks.
But only hours before the function Makhlouf had been the subject yet again of a series of questions in Parliament to the deputy Prime Minister, Winston Peters and Robertson.
The Opposition have taken to disregarding the convention that it is the responsible Ministers who must answer for their public servants’ failings and instead have mounted a personal attack on Makhlouf.
That was underlined last night by National MPs boycotting his farewell function.
However Government Ministers were also thin on the ground, and the only party that was represented in any numbers was New Zealand First who had Winston Peters, Shane Jones, Fletcher Tabuteau and Clayton Mitchell there.
On the other hand, public sector CEO’s were there in force.
In his speech, Finance Minister Grant Robertson did not mention the National Party breach of the Treasury IT systems and the subsequent publication by them of secret Budget material.
Just over three hours earlier in Parliament, he had been asked by National MP Amy Adams whether he still had confidence in the Secretary of the Treasury.
“As I have said previously, I have significant confidence in the work that the Treasury and the Treasury secretary did to create the Wellbeing Budget,” he said.
On the matters that are under investigation, I will wait for the outcome of the investigation.”
So last night he focussed in his tribute to Makhlouf on the way he had made Treasury more diverse and his work in developing the Living Standards’ Framework which lay behind the Wellbeing Budget.
“Gabs, it is I believe your work in the further development of the Living Standards Framework and the push that you have given to your department and to the wider New Zealand public service that has launched a transformation of the way we do Budgets and I hope in time the way we organise and deliver public services as well,” said Robertson.
“I don’t believe there will be many Secretaries of the Treasury who will be able to leave knowing they have had that much of an impact on the core operations of the Treasury.“
Robertson also praised Makhlouf for making Treasury a more diverse place and addressed recent criticism from the NZ Initiative economist, Eric Crampton, that Treasury was putting too much emphasis on diversity and was not hiring enough highly qualified economists.
“ My message to Eric Crampton, the NZ Initiative and the Taxpayers’ Union Is that the Treasury should have economists.but it should also have people from other walks of life who aspire to be part of an organisation that delivers to New Zealanders better-living standards,” he said.
State Services Commissioner Peter Hughes is overseeing the two inquiries into Makhlouf, and Treasury referred to by Robertson in Parliament.
He too was fulsome in his praise for Makhlouf.
But he also addressed the existence of the inquiries.
He said he knew that the last two weeks had been very challenging for Makhlouf.
“ I do want to acknowledge the open and honest way you have engaged me this last little while, and in particular I want to acknowledge your selfless concern for others, in particular, your staff and family,” he said.
But Hughes too was fulsome in his praise for Makhlouf.
“You have brought a big picture view including an international context to your leadership at Treasury,” he said.
“You are hugely committed to public service and making our country a better place for all of us
“And you have the courage of your convictions.
“No one is left in doubt about how you see things.
“It is done in a very polite and charming way, but you are very clear about your views.
“You have said these things because that is the person that you are,” he said.
As for Makhlouf himself, though he spoke at some length, it was a speech ticking off the technical achievements that had been made at Treasury over his term as Secretary.
He too made no reference to the current controversy.
But he did refer to the Budget.
“I have to say, Grant, that one of my proudest moments was listening to the Budget speech and hearing the living Standards’ Framework come alive,’ he said.
He said that had been asked what his greatest success was at Treasury.
“I thought about it, and I realised that when I arrived at Treasury, I was a Brit, but when I leave, I will be a New Zealander.”
POLITIK understands that the two inquiries – one by Deputy State Services Commissioner, John Ombler and the other by former Deloitte NZ chair, Murray Jack, are moving quickly and may well be complete by the time Makhouf finishes at Treasury.
Meanwhile, there is still no appointest of his replacement.