Te tukanga kopou tangata ki Te Pae Turuki How Public Service chief executives are appointed

Every Public Service department must have, as its administrative head, a chief executive.

While Public Service chief executives have a number of roles, essentially, they are tasked with overseeing responsibility for their agency and are responsible to the appropriate minister. They are also expected to have a system-wide leadership role. High performing Public Service chief executives are essential to the delivery of quality outcomes for New Zealanders through their agencies.

Public Service chief executives come from a range of backgrounds with different skill sets, qualifications, and experiences. Chief executive diversity is also important — the cohort must reflect the communities that it serves, and lead their organisation to do similarly. 

In recommending a candidate for appointment to a Public Service chief executive role, the Commissioner undertakes an open and competitive recruitment process to select the person best suited to leading the agency. Chief executive roles are difficult and demanding, and it is important that the best person with the right skill set is selected for the position. 

Appointments to chief executive positions in the Public Service are made under Schedule 7 clause 3 of the Public Service Act 2020 (the Act). This legislation sets out procedures to be followed in making these appointments and specifies the respective responsibilities of ministers and the Commissioner.

The appointment process is as follows:

  1. The Commissioner (or the Deputy Public Service Commissioner) notifies the Minister for the Public Service of an impending vacancy and asks the Minister and relevant agency minister to advise the Commissioner of any matters to be taken into account in the appointment.
  2. The position is advertised to enable suitably qualified people to apply.
  3. The Commissioner establishes an interview panel comprising themself or the Deputy Public Service Commissioner as chairperson, the Deputy Commissioner or an employee of the Commissioner, and one or more other people appointed after consultation with appropriate ministers.
  4. The panel interviews and considers the candidates for the position and deliberates on the person to be recommended for appointment.
  5. The Commissioner decides on the person to be recommended for appointment and forwards the name of that person to the Minister for the Public Service.
  6. The Minister refers the recommendation to the Governor-General in Council.
  7. The Governor-General in Council decides whether to accept or decline the recommendation, and the Minister conveys the decision to the Commissioner.
  8. If the recommendation is accepted, the Commissioner makes the appointment. If the recommendation is not accepted, the Governor-General in Council may direct the Commissioner to appoint a particular named person.

The role of the Commissioner

The Commissioner (or the Deputy Public Service Commissioner) chairs the panel that interviews the short-listed candidates. Responsibility for making the decision on whom to recommend for appointment rests solely with the (Deputy) Commissioner who chairs the interview panel.

The Public Service Act 2020 provides the Commissioner with the mandate for system leadership and provides the foundation on which the Public Service Commission works to improve the Public Service. The Act also sets out the process that must be followed when appointing Public Service chief executives.

The Act specifies separate roles for the Government and the Commissioner in the appointment of Public Service chief executives: the Government outlines its priorities in relation to chief executive positions; the Commissioner, acting independently, selects and recommends the candidate who best fits the requirements of the role. This reflects the principle of a Public Service that maintains political neutrality.

The Commissioner also has a role to manage or administer other recruitment process on behalf of a minister.  This role may be set out in legislation or the Cabinet Manual, or undertaken at the minister’s request.  In these cases, the Commissioner reports to the minister on the suitability of shortlisted candidates, based on the interview panel’s findings, and the recommendation for appointment is made by the minister.

The role of the interview panel 

External interview panellists are invited to assist the Commissioner in the appointment process because they may provide a perspective on the wider community interest, have expertise in a particular field, and/or they have experience as a chief executive. The contribution made by panellists is invaluable in bringing a broader range of experience and expertise to the selection process.

The panel interviews are part of a wider selection process that assists the Commissioner to make a final recommendation for appointment to the Governor-General.  

The role of panel members: 

  • The panel has an advisory role in assisting the Commissioner to determine the extent to which candidates meet the criteria set for the position and have the qualities to perform to the standards required in section 52 and section 73 of the Public Service Act 2020.
  • Interview panel members provide advice that may assist the Commissioner to decide whether candidates meet the criteria for the position, and who may have the qualities to perform to the standard expected by Government. 
  • Panellists are chosen for a number of reasons, such as to provide expertise in a particular field.

Panel members attend in their own right as independent advisors. They do not represent organisations or special interest groups, or ministers. 

The role of ministers

The Public Service Act 2020 provides for input by the Government in the Public Service chief executive appointment process, but provides statutory independence for the Commissioner acting as chairperson in the selection of the person for the job. This process also helps to reinforce the principle of a Public Service that maintains political neutrality.

The Public Service Act 2020 provides for input by the Government at 3 points in the Public Service chief executive appointment process:

  • Schedule 7 clause 3(2), the Minister of the Public Service and the appropriate minister are invited to identify any matters that the chairperson of the panel must take into account when deciding upon the person to be recommended for appointment to the position
  • Schedule 7 clause 3(4), consulting the appropriate minister on the external members of the interview panel 
  • Schedule 7 clause 7(1), consulting the prime minister and the Minister of the Public Service before finalising terms and conditions of employment.

Following the recruitment and interview process, the Commissioner must forward to the Minister of the Public Service the name of the applicant to be recommended for appointment, together with full details of that person’s qualifications. The minister must then refer the chairperson’s recommendations to the Governor-General in Council. 

Prior to the minister referring the chairperson’s recommendation to the Governor-General, the recommendation must first be approved by Cabinet. The process for cabinet submissions is set out in the Cabinet Manual. The Cabinet Appointment and Honours Committee will usually consider the recommendation first, before referring it on to Cabinet.