It is three months since, on the morning of the release of the last Monetary Policy Statement, a fortuitous set of circumstances brought to light a leak of the Reserve Bank’s OCR decision. It hadn’t required any particular devious methods or technologies, and the suggestion – including from the Reserve Bank’s own lawyer – has been that it wasn’t the first time it had happened. Whether that was so or not, the Reserve Bank’s systems were loose enough that it was only a matter of time before, accidentally or deliberately, a leak happened. And ethics were loose enough at MediaWorks that the leak was apparently seen as acceptable conduct, despite the rules of the lock-up. It took weeks for MediaWorks to own up, and even now there has been no proper accounting from them as to just what went on.
In an email yesterday about today’s Monetary Policy Statement, someone in the markets noted to me
Still waiting to read your full apology from RBNZ, I live in hope!!
It might be nice, but the words and (in)actions of Graeme Wheeler, and his associates Geoff Bascand, Mike Hannah, and Rod Carr, really speak for themselves. How did we end up in a situation where these sorts of people govern our central bank?
But I’m still more disturbed about the secrecy with which the Reserve Bank has sought to cloak the whole affair – telling us just as much as they want us to know. Answers to a series of fairly straightforward OIA requests, about events that happened two to three months ago, have been kicked out to 1 July – and such is the Reserve Bank’s track record on the OIA that I’m not optimistic we will get much even then. Whatever the case for secrecy on some policy matters, a leak inquiry – especially one that confirmed an actual leak and prompted major system changes – seems like one of those things where the public should be able to expect a full and open accounting from a taxpayer funded public agency.
Instead, we have them stalling, seemingly averse to transparency and scrutiny. Among the outstanding matters:
- We haven’t seen the terms of reference for the leak inquiry
- We haven’t seen the full Deloitte leak inquiry report, only a short-form public version.
- We haven’t heard why no penalty was initially imposed on MediaWorks, only for the Governor to later change his mind and indefinitely ban them from Reserve Bank press conferences.
- We haven’t heard why the Governor chose in his press statement to emphasise the cooperation of MediaWorks when even the short-form report makes clear that it took weeks for that company to own up, and then only when it had been approached by the inquiry team.
- We have seen no acceptance from the Reserve Bank that its own systems had failed to keep pace with technological change, which left them open to a leak (the consequences of which could have been much more serious than they were).
- We don’t know whether the Bank has made any serious efforts to find out whether MediaWorks staff had leaked previously, and if they did make the effort to seriously pursue the matter, what the answers were.
- We don’t know how much involvement the Bank’s Board – supposed to operate at arms-length from management to hold the Governor to account – had in the handling of the leak, and 14 April press statement. The documents that have been released suggest, which shed a partial light on the matter, suggest that the answer was “too much”.
- We haven’t seen the papers the Reserve Bank considered in reviewing the options regarding the future of lock-ups, press conferences etc.
I’m not sure what the Bank has to hide. The answer may well be “not that much at all”. If so, the obstructiveness and resistance to an open accounting for their handling of a serious breach is perhaps more just a reflection of an ingrained resistance to see themselves as a public body with all that means. In particular, that they are subject to the Official Information Act as much as to any other law, and are a body from whom the public should reasonably expect a full and open accounting. Mistakes happen, errors are made, system flaws come to light. That is what happens with human beings and human institutions. Embarrassing as they sometimes are, accidents and errors will happen. But how an institution – and a powerful individual – recognizes, accepts responsibility for, and responds to such mis-steps can tell us a lot.
As journalists and MPs gather today to scrutinize the Governor, perhaps they might like to reflect on some of this.