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Top public service boss accused of abuse

Published: 10:06AM Thursday July 07, 2011 Source: Fairfax

The boss of a Government department is being investigated over allegations of verbally abusing and assaulting a junior staffer.

Last night the State Services Commission told The Dominion Post that an independent inquiry had begun after "serious allegations" were made about Building and Housing Department chief executive Katrina Bach.

It is understood Bach was involved in an altercation with employee Jaime Rawlings in front of several other staffers.

Bach, a career public servant, was tipped as a likely frontrunner to take over from Social Development Ministry boss Peter Hughes when he leaves the role in September.

According to the department's switchboard, Rawlings is now on sick leave.

The State Services Commission confirmed that it knew about the alleged incident.

"The State Services Commission is aware of the serious allegations made about the chief executive of the Department of Building and Housing.

"There is currently an independent inquiry under way and, until that inquiry is complete and all the facts are established, it would prejudice due process to make any further comment."

The department was asked several questions about the case yesterday, including details of the incident, whether any disciplinary action was being taken and whether Bach took leave after the incident.

A spokeswoman replied: "We are not in a position to answer those questions. It would be inappropriate for us to respond at this stage."

Contacted by The Dominion Post, Rawlings, who is in her late 20s, said: "Unfortunately I'm not able to speak to you. I'm at no discretion to be able to say a thing."

The department, which is responsible for administering building and housing sector legislation, regulating the building and rental housing sector and providing advice and dispute resolution services, employs about 200 staff at its national Wellington office.

Bach has extensive experience in the public service, working in the area for more than 25 years.

Before taking the top job at the department, she served as acting chief executive at Internal Affairs. She previously worked at the Treasury, the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet, and the Trade and Industry Department.

When asked if he was aware of the incident, Housing Minister Phil Heatley said the issue was a matter for the State Services Commission and it was therefore inappropriate for him to comment.

The other minister responsible for the department, Building and Construction Minister Maurice Williamson, did not respond to questions.