Revealed: Derek Handley details 'disappointing' CTO recruitment process

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has denied she misled Parliament over her relationship with Derek Handley and his CTO recruitment process. 

The New Zealand technology entrepreneur has revealed details of the recruitment process for the Government's chief technology officer position which was offered to him and then withdrawn.

The document reveals that Mr Handley had sent text messages to the Prime Minister - whom he knows on a personal level - asking, "What is best email to send you a note w some thoughts? [sic]?"

Ms Ardern's answer is redacted in the document, but it is likely to be an email address. It comes after she told Parliament earlier this month that she had received a text from Mr Handley about the CTO role, but she had not responded to it. 

Screenshots show Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern sent Derek Handley a text message on April 24.
Screenshots show Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern sent Derek Handley a text message on April 24. Photo credit: Supplied

Speaking to media in New York on Tuesday, Ms Ardern said she "did not engage with [Derek Handley] directly on the issue of the CTO role".

The document says Ms Ardern was informed by Mr Handley - then based in New York - on April 23 that he had applied for the CTO position, via email, but there was no response from Ms Ardern. 

However, the document reveals a "series of texts" were exchanged on April 25 about how Mr Handley could be of service and that people had asked him to consider applying for the CTO role.

The document does not clarify if these text messages were exchanged with the Prime Minister. It does clarify, however, that Ms Ardern did "not reply to the specific text about CTO."

The Prime Minister's response to Derek Handley is redacted in the document, but it is likely to be an email address.
The Prime Minister's response to Derek Handley is redacted in the document, but it is likely to be an email address. Photo credit: Supplied

Botched recruitment process

Mr Handley says it's "disappointing" that he has had no communication from the Government explaining why the role he was appointed in August was withdrawn. 

"The handling of the chief technology officer appointment and subsequent fallout in the last four weeks is likely to be discouraging to anyone from the private sector contemplating making a contribution to New Zealand through a Government role," Mr Handley said in a statement. 

He said it's "disappointing from a Government that highlights compassion and kindness as hallmarks of their leadership".

"Under whatever circumstances an employment arrangement is started or ended, openness, communication, empathy and concern are basic principles to doing so with dignity and compassion."

Mr Handley was offered the new CTO position amid controversy surrounding disgraced former minister Clare Curran who was stripped of her Digital Services and Open Government portfolios and later resigned as a minister.   

His job application was controversial from the start, with Ms Curran omitting to mention an evening meeting with him in February. This resulted in her losing her two portfolios, as well as her place in Cabinet, before resigning. 

The document Mr Handley released details his correspondence with Ms Curran from the start. It begins with Mr Handley revealing he first contacted Ms Curran on February 13 via Twitter to explore if she was open to meeting at Digital Nations Summit where they were both due to speak. 

Ms Curran later texted Mr Handley the official email address "" for CTO application enquiries, and the two were not in contact again via any channel until Mr Handley's final interview in Wellington on July 10. 

It then mentions Mr Handley's correspondence with the Prime Minister. 

Where did it all go wrong?

The recruitment process advanced on June 20, and Mr Handley was required to submit video responses, undergo an interview by a panel at Ms Curran's offices, as well as undergo psychometric assessments, among other requirements. 

Mr Handley received an offer letter from Ms Curran's office on August 10, and things looked to be going smoothly. That was until Ms Curran's office became aware of Mr Handley and Ms Curran's February meeting which she hadn't recorded. 

The meeting was not recorded in Ms Curran's diary, nor were her staff or any officials made aware of it. It was also left out of a written answer to a parliamentary question.

Mr Handley's suitability for the role was also questioned by prominent figures within New Zealand's large tech community.  

But with his offer of employment, Mr Handley relocated to New Zealand with his family on September 9. Three days later, on September 12, he learned the CTO role was being "rethought" and he no longer had the role. 

Mr Handley was offered a settlement payment of three months plus reimbursement of costs. The payment came to NZ$100,000 (three months of the one year contract) in addition to NZ$7500 for expenses. He has since donated the money to the Spark Foundation. 

The shaky recruitment process seems to have left a bad taste in Mr Handley's mouth. He says there was "nothing untoward or inappropriate" about it, but has expressed his disappointment over not being contacted by the Government explaining why the CTO offer was withdrawn. 

"In a small country such as ours, we need as many energetic and passionate people as possible to work together to shape our future," he said. "Anything that puts off any one of us from stepping forward to help New Zealand only detracts us all."

He said a review by the State Services Commission said his February meeting with Ms Curran "did not prejudice the process" of recruitment for the CTO position. 

"I remain as dedicated and passionate as ever to helping our country and will no doubt find a meaningful way to do so."