The Reserve Bank and the Official Information Act

(for anyone who is bored with this subject, feel free to read no further).

I have mentioned various Official Information Act requests I have lodged with the Reserve Bank, and the difficulty the Bank seems to have with the proposition that its information is public information and that, unless there is good statutory reasons for withholding the information, it should be released as soon as reasonably practicable, and in any event no later than 20 working days after the request was lodged    Agencies are funded to cover their statutory responsibilities, including those under the OIA.

It would be tedious to readers to run through all the responses I have had, so I will highlight three.

In this post, I discussed a request I had made for a limited range of papers that fed into the March 2005 Monetary Policy Statement (ie 10 year old papers).  On the last working day of the originally available 20, the Bank extended the request for up to another 20 working days,  I’m still waiting, and will no doubt hear something next week.  As a reminder to that Bank, that “as soon as reasonably practicable” is the law of the land.

I also asked the Bank for papers around the 2012 PTA.  As I noted earlier, they came back wanting to charge me for it.  I asked how I could usefully narrow the request to expedite the matter, and (as they are required by law to assist requesters) we had a helpful conversation in which it was agreed that I would revise my request to those (five or six apparently) documents held in the relevant folder in the Bank’s document management system.  I had hoped that might be a matter of only a few days.  I’m looking forward to the final response.

As I was winding up my time at the Bank I lodged an OIA request, asking for clearance to quote historical papers that I had written while I was at the Bank.  In the last decade, those have mostly been opinion pieces.  As I noted to the Bank, I had looked through most of them recently, in the course of clearing my desk, and couldn’t see anything particularly sensitive or likely to cause trouble under statutory OIA grounds.  I suggested that perhaps for older papers they could consider a blanket waiver, and then could have someone look through things I had written in the last three years or so. (I knew that there was one 2012 paper that the Governor had already persuaded the Ombudsman to withhold, and I indicated that I would not be unduly bothered if the Bank still wanted to withhold it, even though the paper was now several years old).

I got a response, again near the end of the 20 working days, saying that the Bank could not give any blanket waivers, and suggesting that if they had to go through the papers it would cost $100000.

Accordingly, I revised my request.   A month ago, I asked only for the papers I had written in a single year, and was very specific that I only wanted papers lodged in the Bank’s document management system, not emails or the like.  As it happened, in the year concerned –  2010 –  I was only working at the Bank for six months.  I don’t know how many papers there are, but I was simply not that productive (and had other things to do).  And these are five-year-old pieces of opinion or analysis[1].

Yesterday, again almost right to the end of the 20 days on this request, I had a response from  the Bank.

Meeting the original 20-day time limit would unreasonably interfere with the operations of the Reserve Bank. Accordingly, and under the provisions of section 15A(1)(a) of the Official information Act, the Reserve Bank is extending by 20 working days the timeframe for a response to your request.
 

It would be almost laughable, if it were not serious.  The Reserve Bank is a very powerful public agency, and the Official Information Act is a key element in open government.  The Reserve Bank seems not to regard obeying the law as a matter of importance.  It is a good example of why, on the other hand, the Ombudsman’s review of the Official Information Act, currently underway, is so important.

If it is of any relevance, which it should not be, I can assure the Bank that my only agenda, in each of these requests, has been transparency.  There is no single document that I desperately want to get hold of and post to make a point, to embarrass the Governor, or anything of the sort.    But if there was, the law is still the law, and information must be provided as soon as reasonably practicable.

[1] Although it occurs to me that the Bank might have interpreted the request as including any advice to the Governor on specific OCR decisions.  I never lodged those pieces in the document management system (the committee secretary did), and am not after those.

5 thoughts on “The Reserve Bank and the Official Information Act

  1. It sounds like the Bank does what it wants when it wants as it wants. I see the website says integrity is the Bank’s most important institutional value. Something doesn’t add up – is it personal?

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  2. Don’t worry it isn’t only the Reserve Bank that thinks the OIA is meant for somebody else than them. The Ombudsmens Office is woefully under resourced and the bureaucrats know it and know it’s toothless anyway.

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