Chief with ‘gravitas’ sought

Graeme Wheeler.
Graeme Wheeler.
The Reserve Bank is seeking a new governor with "gravitas" to lead "a high-performance culture" that includes effective communications, one area where the bank has been both criticised and thin-skinned.

The bank began advertising locally and internationally for a new "chief executive" this month to replace governor Graeme Wheeler, whose five-year term expires on September 26.

The ideal candidate would be "a person of outstanding intellectual ability" and a leader in the financial community with "the ability to make decisions in the context of complex and sensitive environments" with a personal style "consistent with the national importance and gravitas of the role", the ad says.

Under Mr Wheeler, the central bank ended a long-standing policy of holding lock-ups for reporters and analysts where they could view market-sensitive policy and economic releases under embargo and had time to deliver balanced reports when the material was made public.

But the recent release under the Official Information Act of correspondence between Mr Wheeler and Bank of New Zealand chief executive Anthony Healy shows the current governor has also been willing to personally confront criticism of his administration and used his status to attempt to muzzle the critical tone taken by BNZ head of research Stephen Toplis.

Mr Wheeler took umbrage with the "personal nature of criticism" in BNZ’s commentaries when calling on Mr Healy to rein in his top economist. But the publication of the letters, released under the Official Information Act, has brought more criticism of the governor.

New Zealand Initiative executive director Oliver Hartwich said in a note that it was not acceptable for the governor "to attempt to stymie" external commentary and that Mr Wheeler had "overstepped his role" by complaining about a bank economist.

David Tripe, associate professor at Massey University’s school of finance and economics, said the Reserve Bank had not been effective in communicating its goals.

The Reserve Bank’s communication is something economist Shamubeel Eaqub also sees as a failing under Mr Wheeler, who has eschewed personal appearances, such as on current affairs programmes, preferring his lieutenants to field interviews. 

- Paul McBeth

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