Sunday 25 August 2019

Draghi's concern over new chief of Central Bank

ECB boss raised Makhlouf appointment directly with Donohoe

Gabriel Makhlouf. Photo: Bloomberg
Gabriel Makhlouf. Photo: Bloomberg
Philip Ryan

Philip Ryan

European Central Bank (ECB) Governor Mario Draghi raised concerns over the appointment of the new Central Bank of Ireland governor directly with Finance Minister Paschal Donohoe, the Sunday Independent has learned.

Mr Draghi is understood to have approached Mr Donohoe about the appointment of Gabriel Makhlouf at a recent meeting of EU finance ministers in Brussels.

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Mr Draghi's intervention has raised serious concerns in Government as the European Central Bank has no role in the appointment of governors in EU member states.

"An ECB governor talking to our finance minister about who should be appointed as governor is overstepping the mark," a minister said.

However, an ECB source said it would not be inappropriate for Mr Draghi to discuss national matters with a finance minister and pointed out that he would not be able to stop an appointment.

However, there are understood to be concerns in Brussels and the Department of Finance over the appointment of Mr Makhlouf, a senior civil servant in the New Zealand's treasury department, as he has no experience of working in a central bank and is not an economist.

However, it is also argued that until recently the Irish Government always appointed senior civil servants to the role of governor in the Central Bank.

Mr Makhlouf has been embroiled in controversy in New Zealand over the accidental leaking of sensitive budget information.

The former British civil servant initially claimed his department had been "deliberately and system- atically" hacked. However, it later emerged the information was mistakenly made public on his department's website two days before the budget was announced.

A subsequent inquiry by New Zealand's public service watchdog found Mr Makhlouf acted "unreasonably" by seeking to blame those who accessed the information rather than try establish how it had been made available online.

Mr Makhlouf apologised for his role in the controversy but said the inquiry showed he acted in good faith and with political neutrality.

Mr Donohoe and Taoiseach Leo Varadkar have staunchly defended their decision to appoint Mr Makhlouf despite the controversy which emerged after he was chosen for the role.

Yesterday, Fianna Fail's finance spokesperson Michael McGrath said Mr Makhlouf should come before the Oireachtas Finance Committee to answer questions about the controversy and his "capacity to stand up to government".

The Labour Party has called for his appointment to be reviewed and accused the Government of seeking to "play down" the findings of the New Zealand inquiry.

"He has been widely criticised in New Zealand for not taking personal responsibility for the incident and for failing to attend a key parliamentary committee in the aftermath of the incident," Labour leader Brendan Howlin said.

An ECB spokesperson said the EU agency "does not get involved in the appointment of national governors".

The minister's spokesperson said the Department of Finance received "no objection from the ECB in respect of the appointment".

Sunday Independent

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