There can be no doubt the Derek Handley saga is a train wreck that is now threatening to derail confidence in the Government.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern may have been hoping she could leave the domestic turmoil of the past few weeks behind her, while she - with partner Clarke Gayford and baby Neve - wows world leaders and their delegations at the United Nations in New York.

But she clearly wasn't banking on tech entrepreneur Derek Handley yesterday releasing his text and email communications with her and former Minister for Government Digital Services Clare Curran, and speaking further about the whole sorry saga - including bemoaning his lack of apology or explanation in the matter of the bungled chief technology officer recruitment process.

Possibly Ardern thought sacking Curran from that ministerial post - and Curran's subsequent resignation from all her ministerial portfolios - was enough to put the incident to rest.


However, yesterday the PM found herself having to fend off accusations she had misled Parliament over her own communications with Handley, Finance Minister Grant Robertson was forced to correct his answer in Parliament over emails between Handley and Curran, and new Digital Services Minister Megan Woods was clearly forced to finally call Handley to apologise for the "impact this has had on him and his family". She also had to retract her statement there had been a confidentiality agreement with Handley over his financial settlement.

What a shemozzle.

It still doesn't feel like a satisfying conclusion for anyone - if indeed this end of the matter.

Handley says he has been a victim of speculation and innuendo since he moved his family from New York home to New Zealand where he was looking forward to taking up the newly created technology position, which he had been awarded, but which was then scrapped. Until yesterday, he said he had still received no explanation, let alone apology, from anyone in the Government about that. Surely that wasn't just a failure of process, but good manners, too?

He may now have the long-overdue apology, but what about the explanation for the sudden turnaround? Is the Government's admission that the "process got incredibly messy" enough? That's obvious to everyone.

Regardless of whether people thought Handley was the right person for the job - whatever the newly created role might have entailed, he has clearly been a victim here.

Yes, he gets compensation - courtesy of the taxpayer and which he says he will donate to charity - but it's hardly been the homecoming he and his family can have been expecting.

The public loses out in terms of footing the bill for said compensation, but also in the matter of trust.


Process in these matters matters. The public needs to be confident there is no political interference in a public appointment. And what about the Government's assurance it was going to be more open and transparent? At least one commentator yesterday said Ardern had been "economical with the truth".

This is a serious black mark for the Government. The overall unease around communication, competency and transparency over this issue is now raising questions about the PM's leadership and the Government's integrity in general.

Serious damage control is required from the Prime Minister to stop the matter snowballing further and restore public confidence in the Government. She needs to front-foot things in Parliament when she returns.