5 Jun 2009

Auditor-General report faults Immigration Service

6:43 am on 5 June 2009

A report by the Auditor-General is raising serious concerns about the quality of some decision-making processes at Immigration New Zealand.

The year-long inquiry into the Immigration Service was undertaken after allegations of corruption in the service and the resignation of its head Mary Anne Thompson.

The report finds substantial variation and inconsistency with immigration practices and the quality of decision-making. Of the 436 visa and permit decisions reviewed, more than a fifth were found to be questionable or poor.

Auditor-General Kevin Brady says he is concerned that perfomance targets within the Immigration Service focus on the quantity of visas and permits processed, not the quality.

Mr Brady says the service's Pacific Division had an even lower quality of visa and permit decisions than the rest of the department.

That supports the findings of a State Services Commission report, which found Ms Thompson consistently breached department policy by failing to manage conflicts of interest.

Wendy Venter led the inquiry on behalf of the Auditor-General, and says it found Immigration Service staff did not feel safe raising workplace concerns.

Urgent attention needed, says minister

Immigration Minister Jonathan Coleman says the Auditor-General report confirms the Immigration Service needs urgent attention.

Mr Coleman says the report shows it is an organisation where people do not talk to each other, management practices are poor and there is a lack of standardisation in the way things are done across the service.

Immigration New Zealand chief executive Christopher Blake says the shortcomings are unacceptable and he is actively addressing them.

Mr Blake says he plans to turn the department into a world-leading service through a comprehensive change programme.

The Public Service Association says better systems are needed and it is pleased Immigration Service employees have not been blamed for poor handling of permits and visas.

Labour's Immigration spokesperson Pete Hodgson says he believes the problems are systemic rather than poor employee performance.