NZ central bank’s chairman blocks media from presentation on reform

A pedestrian walks past the main entrance to the Reserve Bank of New Zealand located in central Wellington, New Zealand, July 3, 2017. (Reuters pic)

WELLINGTON: Reserve Bank of New Zealand Board Chairman Neil Quigley has blocked media from attending a presentation he will deliver on reforms at the central bank.

Quigley is speaking Tuesday at an Institute of Directors luncheon in Hamilton on “Governance and Decision-Making at the Reserve Bank of New Zealand.” The event is open to institute members for NZ$50 ($34) and non-members for NZ$65, but Quigley declined a request for media to attend, an institute spokeswoman said.

The closed presentation comes as the central bank faces its biggest upheaval since it pioneered inflation targeting three decades ago. The government’s review of the Reserve Bank Act will have as-yet-unspecified implications for the board, which is tasked with monitoring the bank’s performance. RBNZ Governor Adrian Orr has also called for wider communication with the public.

“There’s this great promise from Adrian Orr that things will change, and certainly he has been more engaged and more open, but in terms of the culture of the board and the organization it seems like very slow progress,” said Shamubeel Eaqub, an independent economist at Sense Partners in Auckland. “When it’s an issue as important as this, we would expect at least a speech to be available to the media.”

Not unusual
It is not unusual for RBNZ officials to speak at private functions. The bank gives more than 120 presentations to business groups and organizations each year that is often invitation-only or closed to the public, its website says. Last year, 10 speeches were published.

“Members of the Institute of Directors and their paying guests will not be privy to information from Professor Quigley that is not already in the public sphere,” said Angus Barclay, acting head of communications at the RBNZ. The bank gives presentations to private audiences because “the presence of news media at an event alters the nature of the discussion” and may dissuade guests from participating “in a two-way experience,” he said, speaking on Quigley’s behalf.

In his presentation tomorrow, Quigley, who is also vice-chancellor at the University of Waikato, will address “the ways in which the board’s role and powers are likely to change following the review of the Act,” according to an advisory for the event on the institute’s website.

“The key issues in the review relate to the move from the current ‘single decision-maker’ model to a committee structure, and to changes in the role of the board of directors resulting from this,” it says.

The RBNZ has already adopted a dual mandate and is preparing to switch to an enlarged policy committee with outside experts, which will change the way interest-rate decisions are made and communicated.

Orr has stressed the importance of communication since he took office in late March.

“We will communicate more widely, making our messages accessible and relevant to the New Zealand public,” he said in the bank’s Statement of Intent published last week.

Asked how banning media from tomorrow’s event squares with the bank’s stated communication aims, Barclay said: “Professor Quigley will communicate directly with a group of people who will be better informed after the event that they were at the start. That fits very well with our strategy to communicate more widely.”