Regular readers will recall that the Reserve Bank has long been deeply resistant to releasing any information relating to OCR decisions or Monetary Policy Statements, other than what they themselves chose to release, whether in the published documents or in subsequent interviews. That has never been very satisfactory, but the Bank has attempted to carve out for itself a special place, more or less above the provisions of the Official Information Act.
One of the things they’ve consistently refused to release is minutes of the Governing Committee, the body set up by the previous Governor, in which the Governor takes his final OCR decision (and other major decisions, including ones around LVRs). They had long taken the same stance to the minutes of the predecessor Official Cash Rate Advisory Group, even when the requests related to decisions some time in the past. Often enough, it seemed that there were no written minutes at all (which was probably in breach of the Public Records Act).
I had largely given up on making any progress on this issue (and, anyway, the new statutory Monetary Policy Committee, which will have its own charter on such matters, is coming next year). But for some reason, which I now forget, I had lodged one more request six months ago seeking
1. the minutes of any meetings of the Governing Committee relating to the May MPS,
including minutes of the meeting where the OCR decision was taken;
When the Bank refused to release anything (not even date of meeting, list of attendees, headings – even if all the substantive content was redacted) I complained to the Ombudsman, noting that (among other things) the Bank quite often released minutes of Board meetings (even with some content withheld).
The Bank regularly releases minutes of the meetings of its own Board (in response to OIA requests), with individual deletions as appropriate. It seems inconceivable, for example, that the date, time, place of the meeting, the list of attendees, the confirmation of past minutes, and the final decisions of any meetings (themselves reflected in a later published document) could pass a “free and frank”: withholding test, even if (again) it is plausible that if there is any substantial account of the nature of contentious discussion at the meeting that specific element of the material might.
And then I forgot all about the request until a short time ago when an email from the Reserve Bank turned up.
We refer to your complaint to the Office of the Ombudsman (ref: 480453) relating to your request for: “minutes of any meetings of the Governing Committee relating to the May MPS, including minutes of the meeting where the OCR decision was taken.”
The Reserve Bank has reconsidered its initial position and is now releasing with redactions, a copy of the only document within the scope of your request – the Governing Committee minutes in May. The document is attached to this correspondence.
And it has only take six months, which is progress. Credit to the Ombudsman.
For anyone interested, the minutes themselves are here
One day perhaps we might even have released – with a suitable lag – the background papers the Governor (and his new MPC) receive, and upon which they base their decision
I’m not sure there is any new information in the particular minutes released, but having released Governing Committee minutes in this form – against a request made almost immediately after the relevant OCR decision was released – a small but helpful precedent has been established. Some material is still withheld on the highly questionable ground of avoiding damage to the substantial economic interests of New Zealand. One day, the Ombudsman is going to have to provide some substantive guidance on that provision, but for now both he and the Bank seem keen to avoid the Ombudsman having to draw the appropriate line between national economic interests and those of a particular public agency.