The OIA, the RB, and the MPC

One comes to take for granted the gross inadequacies of the Official Information Act, including the systematic under-resourcing of the Ombudsman’s office, which just reinforces the incentives on officials to play fast and loose with the spirit of the law, banking on the fact that if their agency ever loses at the Ombudsman it will be so far down the track that most people – possibly including the requester- will have lost interest in whatever it was the agency didn’t want to release.

But just occasionally it still gets to one. No doubt many requesters have this sort of experience.

I had an email this afternoon from the Ombudsman’s office

It didn’t sound like much of an update – “we are writing to tell you that we have still done nothing about your complaint and have no idea when we will”. I couldn’t even remember what I’d made a complaint about or when. On checking, I found that my complaint was lodged on 3 February. This was the complaint

The original request had been lodged with the Reserve Bank on 10 November 2022

10 November was the day the Reserve Bank released its first five-yearly review of the conduct of monetary policy. They took the best part of three months themselves to withhold almost everything deemed relevant. They did release three documents, which contained almost nothing of substance (that being the point), including this one

which doesn’t really appear to be in scope at all.

As a reminder of the context, this five-yearly report came out amidst inflation having burst well beyond the target range, the MPC having lost taxpayers the best part of $10 billion on the LSAP, and as the MPC was racing to raise the OCR to get inflation back in check.

As I noted in my complaint, one of the oddities of the five-yearly review provision in the Act is that the Bank (management, and I suppose the Board) get to do the review, and yet the MPC is the entity that sets monetary policy, and the MPC includes the three external members who don’t formally answer to the Governor. We know from the finished report what the Governor thinks of the MPC’s stewardship – and as a reminder management has the majority of the votes – but we know almost nothing at all about what the external MPC members thought. Did they reflect differently on the Covid period than management did? Or did they perhaps not reflect very seriously at all? Did their views or input (if any) have any impact on the substance of management’s report?

You might have thought that disclosing MPC members’ views, or input to the report, might be the very least sort of effective public accountability for the considerable power they helped wield, the considerable and hugely costly the mistakes they helped make.

Perhaps one day we will get an answer. But the Reserve Bank – like so many government agencies around town – knows that it only needs to say no, and if the requester can even be bothered complaining that it could be 12-18 months or more before there is any hope of the Ombudsman getting round to addressing the complaint. Meanwhile, the external MPC members (and management) go on wielding their power and collecting their salaries.

But it does remind me that I had overlooked lodging a complaint with the Ombudsman about the Bank’s bare-faced obstructionism in the matter of the appointment of the chair of the majority owner of a large bank being appointed to the board of the Reserve Bank, an appointment almost certainly done with the acquiescence (or worse) of the Governor.