Other people OIA the Reserve Bank too

Occasionally I have a look at the Reserve Bank’s website page on which they post selected OIA responses.  This time I was just checking to see whether a response I got yesterday –  after 2.5 months, and still only partial –  was there (it wasn’t).  But I spotted this response to someone else, released last Friday

Dear …..

On 12 December 2017 the Reserve Bank received a request from you, via http://www.fyi.org.nz and pursuant to section 12 of the Official Information Act 1982 (the OIA), asking:

In the recent recruitment process to appoint a new Governor of RBNZ (which resulted in the Board recommending to the Minister of Finance that Adrian Orr be appointed as Governor), please advise: 1. How many of the total applicants/individuals considered for the role were: a) women; or b) non-Pakeha; or c) both.

2. What was the total number of applicants/individuals considered?

3. If there is a shortlisting process, how many of the individuals who were included on that shortlist were: a) women; or b) non-Pakeha; or c) both.

4. If there was a shortlisting process, how many individuals were included on the shortlist in total?

Decision

The Reserve Bank is declining your request, as allowed by section 9(2)(a) of the OIA, in order to protect the privacy of the candidates considered for the role of Governor.

Given the nature of the process and the final pool of candidates, releasing the information that you have requested is likely to identify people who were considered but not appointed – which is private information.

In other words, they refused to release any of this information at all.

Which should be pretty extraordinary really.   The Board’s defence is that they are withholding the information to protect the privacy of candidates.    But they ran a search process that included a public advertisement inviting applications.  I suspect they had several dozen applications, some less serious than others.   How could anyone’s privacy be breached by releasing the total number of applicants (plus the number of any people the Board themselves put directly into the mix)?     How could anyone’s privacy possibly be breached if it were known that three women and three “non-Pakeha” had applied (we know there was at least one in the latter category, since Adrian Orr has some Cook Islands ancestry)?  And how could anyone’s privacy be breached by revealing how many people were on the shortlist?

I’m a little more sympathetic in respect of question 3.  If there was, say, one woman on the shortlist, that might reasonably invite some speculation as to who, but even then it is hard to see how –  in a universe of say 1.5 million adult women in New Zealand –  a person’s privacy could have been breached.  And, given that the Bank has been notoriously weak (for whatever reason) in appointing women to senior positions, it might have been somewhat reassuring to the public that one (or more) women had made the shortlist.   As it is, we know there was at least one “non-Pakeha” in the list since –  as the Board tells the requester later in the letter –  Orr is quite open about the Cook Islands aspect of his heritage, and if perchance there was more than one “non-Pakeha” on the shortlist it is still hard to see how any one specific person’s privacy would have been jeopardised.

But in a sense, the really interesting bit of the letter is the final paragraph of the extract above.  It is factually false for one thing (names of people the Board considered are official information –  not private information –  even if protected from disclosure by the “privacy of natural persons” section of the Official Information Act).  But, if the Board is to be taken at its word.

releasing the information that you have requested is likely to identify people who were considered but not appointed

They don’t say “invite speculation on possible names” but “likely to identify people”. It is hard to imagine how it could do so –  reasoning outlined earlier – unless the shortlist included the name of a “non-Pakeha” woman (the subset of potentially credible candidates fitting this description seems likely to be very small indeed).   But even if it did, it would require a wider knowledge and a richer imagination than mine to guess –  let alone “identify” – who such a person might have been.

I rather doubt the Board should be taken at its word on this point –  rather they probably just didn’t want to release anything and waved their hands to construct a defence –  but if any readers do want to take them at their word, I’d welcome suggestions as to who the person might have been.