The Joint (TPP) Declaration – another Reserve Bank OIA abuse

On 6 November I posted about the joint declaration of the macroeconomic policy authorities of the trans-pacific partnership countries.  This non-binding declaration dealt with issues around exchange rate management etc.  It was, apparently, a price set by the US Congress for being willing to consider legislation to implement the TPP agreement.

The declaration was announced in a joint press release from the Governor of the Reserve Bank and the Secretary to the Treasury.  As they noted in their Q&A accompanying the press release:

This is an understanding among our macroeconomic agencies. It is not a treaty among TPP governments.

My conclusion, which seemed reasonable at the time, was that both the Reserve Bank and the Treasury were parties to this declaration.  Everything in their documents suggested so, and if we are going to have such declarations at all then it makes sense for the operationally autonomous central bank to be a party to it.

I was, however,  struck by one sentence in the declaration, which stated

We, the macroeconomic policy authorities for countries that are party to the Trans-Pacific Partnership…welcome the ambitious, comprehensive, and high-standard agreement reached by our respective governments in Atlanta.

I wondered (a) whether such judgements were really appropriate for non-partisan public servants to be making, and (b) what basis the Governor and Secretary had had for reaching their judgement.  In truth, I was more interested in the Reserve Bank’s response, since I knew that Treasury would have been reasonably actively involved in the whole process.  Accordingly, I lodged an OIA request with each agency.

Today I received this response from the Reserve Bank.

On 6 November 2015, you made a request under the provisions of Section 12 of the Official Information Act (the Act), seeking: 

Copies of any analysis and position papers etc undertaken by those two agencies (RBNZ and Treasury) which provided the basis for their judgement that TPP was an “ambitious, comprehensive, and high-standard” agreement.

The phrase you’ve quoted comes from the Joint Declaration of the Macro-economic policy authorities of Trans-Pacific Partnership Countries published on the United States Treasury website. That document was agreed between the signatories to the TPPA (Australia, Brunei Darussalam, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, Peru, Singapore, the United States and Viet Nam).

Work to analyse the TPPA, and to advise the Government about the TPPA, was performed by the Treasury, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade, and possibly other agencies too. The Reserve Bank did not undertake its own specific analysis and so does not hold information within the scope of your request. The Bank is refusing your request under the grounds allowed by section 18(e) of the Act – the document alleged to contain the information requested does not exist.

A number of things are puzzling about this response:

  • The Bank refers to the declaration being on the US Treasury website.  But the RB/Treasury press release had a link to a copy of the declaration on the New Zealand Treasury’s website.
  • The response states that the declaration “was agreed between the signatories to the TPPA” but, as noted above, in their release the Governor and Secretary said that it was an agreement between macroeconomic policy authorities.  Is the Reserve Bank one of these authorities or not?  And if not, why was the Governor party to the press release?
  • It is also stated that the Reserve Bank neither undertook any analysis of the TPP agreement itself, and nor does it hold information prepared by other agencies.    They state that the information I  requested simply does not exist.  In other words, despite apparently being party to a declaration that lauds TPP as an “ambitious, comprehensive and high standard” agreement, that specific judgement –  really quite political in effect –  is apparently based on nothing on at.  No documents, no file notes, no analysis, no emails.  Is this  the standard of policymaking we should expect from the Reserve Bank?

Finally, if there is really nothing at all, how come it took 17 or 18 working days to respond?  As a reminder, the Official Information Act requires agencies to respond “as soon as reasonably practicable”.  I can understand it taking two or three days, but this response looks like yet another highly questionable abuse of the Act.

I’ve now lodged a further request for any material the Bank did consider prior to issuing the joint press release on 6 November.  Perhaps that will help finally confirm whether the Reserve Bank really is a party to this or not.

 

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