Response to request for disclosure of the minutes of Norges Bank's monetary policy meetings.
On 23 September 2011, Norges Bank received your email requesting full public disclosure of the minutes of Norges Bank’s three most recent monetary policy meetings, with all appurtenant attachments. These are the monetary policy meetings dated 22 June, 10 August and 21 September 2011.
In recent years, Norges Bank has taken steps towards greater transparency concerning its interest rate decisions. The essential documents relating to monetary policy meetings are currently made public. The Executive Board’s monetary policy strategy has been a matter of public record since 2003, and since 2005 the Bank has presented its own forecast for the key policy rate. The introductory remarks by the Governor or Deputy Governor at the monetary policy meeting are published along with the interest rate decision. “The Executive Board’s monetary policy decision – background and general assessment” is a brief account of the factors that have been assessed and of the Executive Board’s decision, as well as of alternative interest rate decisions considered by the Executive Board. At the same time, a memorandum is published that summarises new information since the previous Monetary Policy Report (1). Since March of this year, the Monetary Policy Report contains the section “The Executive Board’s assessment” , which includes a summary of the points to which the Executive Board gives weight in its discussion of monetary policy at the preparatory meetings in advance of its decision on monetary policy strategy (2).
Pursuant to Section 13 of the (Norwegian) Freedom of Information Act, information that is subject to a duty of confidentiality is exempted from public disclosure. Section 12, first paragraph, of the Norges Bank Act states that employees of the Bank are “obliged to prevent others from gaining access to, or knowledge of, any matter that may come to their knowledge in the performance of their duties regarding the business affairs of the Bank or of other parties or the private circumstances of any person”. Information concerning the Executive Board’s monetary policy decisions come under this provision and is thus subject to a duty of confidentiality. Information subject to a duty of confidentiality is covered by a “sixty-year rule”, after which the duty of confidentiality ceases to apply (cf. Section 13 c last sentence of the Public Administration Act).
Nevertheless, pursuant to Section 12 fourth paragraph of the Norges Bank Act, the Executive Board may grant exemptions from the duty of confidentiality regarding the Bank’s business affairs. Under this provision, Norges Bank’s Executive Board decided at a meeting on 26 April 2000 that “the duty of confidentiality concerning disclosures of votes and minutes by the Executive Board regarding monetary policy decisions shall cease to apply after twelve years, unless otherwise decided on a case-by-case basis”. For that reason, clause 16, cf. second paragraph, of Norges Bank’s Executive Board’s rules of order, which concerns public disclosure, states “[t]he minutes of the Executive Board’s monetary policy meetings are subject to public disclosure after twelve years”.
Therefore, disclosure of (meeting protocols or portions of protocols containing) information regarding monetary policy decisions will – upon request – be made with effect from the first monetary policy meeting following the decision on 26 April 2000, which was held on 10 May 2000. Disclosure of information may thus start on 10 May 2012.
I would refer to the discussion by the Ministry of Finance in Proposition No. 81 (2002-03) to the Odelsting (parliament), On an Act to amend the Norges Bank Act etc., of the question regarding the publication of minutes of meetings of monetary policy decision-making bodies. The Ministry chose not to propose regular publication of the minutes. Following the Odelsting’s deliberation of the amendments, the Standing Committee on Finance and Economic Affairs also referred to Section 12 of the Norges Bank Act in its recommendation, stating that “[m]onetary policy decisions and discussions leading up to them shall be considered business affairs” (see Recommendation No. 101 (2002-2003) to the Odelsting, page 11). In this, Norges Bank has followed up the view of the legislature.
Even though the most essential documents relating to monetary policy decisions are currently made public, documents submitted to the Executive Board for monetary policy meetings will, in principle, be internal documents under Section 14 of the Freedom of Information Act. Such documents may therefore be exempted from public disclosure. With regard to information not subject to a duty of confidentiality, Norges Bank will consider whether to grant discretionary disclosure (cf. Section 11 of the Freedom of Information Act ). Under no circumstances may information in documents subject to a duty of confidentiality be disclosed to the public.
In addition to the aforementioned documents, the Executive Board receives memoranda from Norges Bank Monetary Policy containing assessments of developments in the Norwegian and global economies, as well as developments in interest rates and in the krone exchange rate. When submitted to the Executive Board, they are classified and stamped CONFIDENTIAL, pursuant to Section 4 of the Instructions regarding Protection (cf. Section 13 first paragraph of the Freedom of Information Act and cf. Section 12 first paragraph of the Norges Bank Act.
As all information contained in the memoranda is subject to a duty of confidentiality pursuant to Section 12 first paragraph of the Norges Bank Act, the documents are exempted from public disclosure (cf. Section 13 first paragraph of the Freedom of Information Act). The reason that they are subject to a duty of confidentiality is that the memoranda in their entirety contain market-sensitive information, which must be regarded as being covered by the phrase “the Bank’s business affairs”.
At monetary policy meetings, the Governor of Norges Bank presents an internal document containing assessments, a recommendation for the Executive Board’s interest rate decision and a draft of the Executive Board’s assessment. This submission is classified and stamped STRICTLY CONFIDENTIAL, pursuant to Section 4 of the Instructions regarding Protection (cf. Section 13 first paragraph of the Freedom of Information Act and cf. Section 12 first paragraph of the Norges Bank Act). This document is exempted from public disclosure as an internal document pursuant to Section 14 first paragraph of the Freedom of Information Act. Nevertheless, Norges Bank has considered whether to grant full or partial disclosure of the document “Norges Bank’s key policy rate”. The protection of internal documents in Section 14 of the Freedom of Information Act is intended to safeguard and support candid internal discussions and deliberations before a decision is taken. Full or partial disclosure of this memorandum will be detrimental to the Executive Board’s candid deliberation of monetary policy decisions. The need for an exemption in this matter weighs more heavily than the interest of public disclosure.
The Executive Board also receives the Ministry of Finance’s minutes of meetings between the ministry and Norges Bank prior to monetary policy meetings. This document is exempted from public disclosure in its entirety under Section 15 third paragraph of the Freedom of Information Act.
Furthermore, the Executive Board receives a set of charts illustrating developments in macroeconomic variables and market data. The set of charts is sent to the Executive Board in advance of a monetary policy meeting. This document is internal and may be exempted from public disclosure under Section 14 of the Freedom of Information Act. Even so, Norges Bank has assessed whether to make full or partial disclosure of the set of charts on the basis of Section 11 of the Freedom of Information Act and has concluded that partial disclosure may be made. The portion of the set of charts not subject to discretionary disclosure contains information that may be market-sensitive. The set of charts from the three most recent monetary policy meetings are attached as pdf-files and contain information from publicly available sources, such as Statistics Norway.
The account above makes clear that essential documents covering the Executive Board’s deliberations, decisions and monetary policy strategy are easily accessible on Norges Bank’s website, and furthermore, that the request for disclosure has been denied as far as some documents are concerned. The decision as it pertains to the denial of disclosure may be appealed against to the Ministry of Finance (cf. Section 32 of the Freedom of Information Act). In such case, the appeal must be lodged initially with Norges Bank.
Mette Fossum Beyer
Director of Communications (Acting)
1) See Monetary Policy Report 1/11 and 2/11.
2) See also the report The Monetary Policy Report process in Norges Bank, dated 16 December 2010.