Review finds lapses in Te Puni Kōkiri's appointment of disgraced teacher

Teacher had history of grooming, sexual relationship with students

Review finds lapses in Te Puni Kōkiri's appointment of disgraced teacher

An independent review found several lapses in the recruitment process of Te Puni Kōkiri (TPK) when it hired for a senior advisor role a former teacher who committed serious misconduct.

TPK hired Taurapa, formerly Connor Taurapa Matthews, for a Senior Advisor – Māori Capability role despite his background of having a sexual relationship with a student and grooming another.

His hiring prompted TPK chief executive Dave Samuels, who was among Taurapa's list of referees, to ask the Public Service Commission (PSC) to review the agency's recruitment processes.

The review, carried out by independent expert Pania Gray, was released on Friday, finding that TPK did not explore the risks arising from the applicant's professional serious misconduct during interview.

The interview panel also did not "collectively consider the applicant's professional serious misconduct charge in assessing his suitability for appointment during the moderation process after his interview," according to the review.

It added that the agency should have also carried out a review of the appointment after eight staffers asked for it, further noting that it was "not appropriate" to have the deputy secretaries who approved of Taurapa's appointment to decline the review.

"The process that led to the decisions to decline these review requests was not consistent with either the TPK Review of Appointment policy or the system-wide guidance," Gray said in her findings.

According to Gray, initiating a review would have provided an "independent set of eyes" to look into the recruitment process and the relationship between Taurapa's serious misconduct and his suitability for the role.

Acting Public Service Commissioner Heather Baggott said it was "disappointing that the TPK did not apply the rigour" expected from it.

"TPK did not consider the implications of the applicant's background in sufficient depth and refusing to conduct a formal review was a missed opportunity to clear up the matter," Baggott said in a statement.

Role of chief executive

Meanwhile, the review also cleared TPK chief executive Samuels from potential "inappropriate involvement" in Taurapa's appointment.

Samuels was included in Taurapa's list of referees for the role, but he cleared that he was not aware that he was listed as one.

The TPK chief executive is also a friend of Taurapa's father, and he told the inquiry that he only knew the former teacher used him as a referee on an earlier unsuccessful application.

"I am satisfied that the chief executive did not act as a referee for the applicant for the Senior Advisor – Māori Capability recruitment process," Gray said in the report. "I am also satisfied that the chief executive was not involved in the decision to appoint the applicant to one of the two fixed-term positions being recruited for."

TPK said in the report that it acknowledges its Review of Appointment policy is "overdue for review," adding that its human resources policies need to be updated.

"I was advised that this will happen as part of TPK's ongoing human resources policy review work programme," Gray said.

Baggott added that Samuels assured her that he will "tighten the agency's recruitment process to ensure this doesn't happen again."

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