Sur­prise hon­our for Chief Om­buds­man

Kapi-Mana News - - NEWS - By AN­DREA O’NEIL

Chief Om­buds­man Dame Bev­er­ley Wakem’s sense of fair­ness and jus­tice, in­stilled by her Catholic Le­banese fam­ily, has shaped her ca­reer.

This cul­mi­nated last month in the Pau­ata­hanui res­i­dent be­ing ad­mit­ted to the New Zealand Or­der of Merit for ser­vices to the state.

Ms Wakem says the hon­our came as a huge sur­prise, es­pe­cially af­ter re­ceiv­ing a CBE in 1990 for her work as chief ex­ec­u­tive of Ra­dio New Zealand.

‘‘ I was just ab­so­lutely gob­s­macked. I was quite amazed. Hav­ing got my CBE, I thought I’d done my dash,’’ she says.

Ms Wakem, 68, has been Chief Om­buds­man since 2010, the first woman to hold the po­si­tion. She heads a staff of 61 who as­sess pub­lic com­plaints about cen­tral and lo­cal gov­ern­ment.

‘‘Just mak­ing sure the wheels of gov­ern­ment move smoothly,’’ as Ms Wakem puts it. ‘‘We don’t ad­vo­cate for ei­ther side, we have to just look at the facts and look at the law, and make a sen­si­ble and in­tel­li­gent ar­gu­ment on the key is­sues.’’

Ms Wakem be­came an Om­buds­man in 2008 af­ter a high-achiev­ing ca­reer in broad­cast­ing, com­mu­ni­ca­tions and hu­man re­sources. She is pres­i­dent of the In­ter­na­tional Om­buds­man In­sti­tute and has been pres­i­dent of the Asia Pa­cific Broad­cast­ing Union; has sat on the Higher Salaries Com­mis­sion and is an ac­tive mem­ber of Ro­tary.

She is also known lo­cally for protest­ing the Puke­tiro wind­farm de­vel­op­ment near her prop­erty.

Ms Wakem’s val­ues were in­stilled by her par­ents, who were both chil­dren of Le­banese im­mi­grants to New Zealand, she says. She sums it up as ‘‘do unto oth­ers, a sense of fair­ness and fair play’’.

Her work ethic is an­other result of her mi­grant fam­ily, she says.

‘‘They’re com­pelled to do bet­ter than what they were in their home­land and they’ll have a sense of want­ing to con­trib­ute and mak­ing a dif­fer­ence.’’

At 19 Ms Wakem left her univer­sity study to be­gin a cadet­ship at Na­tional Ra­dio. She needed the money, she says.

She spent nine years

in spo­ken pro­grammes be­fore get­ting rest­less, then took up a Ro­tary schol­ar­ship to do a mas­ters de­gree in com­mu­ni­ca­tions in Ken­tucky, USA. On her re­turn she was in­vited to ap­ply for the head of pro­grammes job, and over the next decade helped create iconic pro­grammes like Morn­ing Re­port and Af­ter­noons.

By 1984 she was chief ex­ec­u­tive.

Ms Wakem never en­coun­tered the glass ceil­ing, she says.

‘‘I can’t say truth­fully I have felt blocked be­cause I was a woman,’’ she says.

In 1991 Ms Wakem moved to Wright­son as com­mu­ni­ca­tions and HR man­ager, be­fore free­lanc­ing and sit­ting on boards un­til 2005, when she was en­cour­aged to ap­ply for the Om­buds­man role.

Her great­est achieve­ment in the job was an in­ves­ti­ga­tion of ‘‘ near misses’’ in hos­pi­tals, which cul­mi­nated in an ini­tia­tive to en­cour­age med­i­cal staff to re­port se­ri­ous events.

Ms Wakem plans to re­tire when her sec­ond term fin­ishes in 2015.

‘‘ I don’t want to work this hard ever again,’’ she says.

Fair play: The Chief Om­buds­man, Pau­ata­hanui’s Dame Bev­er­ley Wakem, has led a stel­lar ca­reer driven by a strong sense of fair­ness and jus­tice.

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