30 Jun 2015

What now for CERA four years on?

2:43 pm on 30 June 2015

ANALYSIS: It seems the Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority (CERA) may be having an identity crisis.

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Photo: RNZ / Diego Opatowski

CERA's work was expected to slow this year as its mandate approaches its expiry date.

But last week it was advertising for a new investment and commercial strategy general manager to spur on private sector development in the rebuild and provide economic evaluation of the anchor projects.

The job title and description hardly signified a winding down of central Government functions in the region's recovery.

The job listing for General Manager, Commercial Strategy and Investment.

The job listing for General Manager, Commercial Strategy and Investment. Photo: RNZ / Georgina Stylianou

CERA suddenly pulled the advertisement yesterday, saying it had been put up prematurely, and the organisation needed to think more carefully about its staffing levels.

The description for the position said the job would include leading a team that helps "catalyse and facilitate private sector" investment and drives "sound commercial decision-making and value for money recovery outcomes". It would also involve business case development, economic and benefit analysis and developing solutions to investment obstacles.

The real question, though, is why when the Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Act expires in 10 months, does the city's rebuild seem so far behind?

More to the point, why is the economic evaluation and business case development phase not completed, four-and-a-half years after the February 2011 earthquake?

If positions like 'General Manager of Commercial Strategy and Investment' are up for grabs, the likelihood of the recovery being handed back to local authorities appears slim.

Prime Minister John Key is addressing business leaders at a Canterbury Employers' Chamber of Commerce luncheon on Thursday and is tipped to announce the future recovery arrangements for the region.

There are allegations that excessive planning costs, poor commercial negotiations and lack of financial certainty are behind delays of several central city rebuild projects.

But Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Minister Gerry Brownlee maintains things are on track, and says budgets and timelines should be fluid, not fixed.

A perceived lack of financial transparency, especially when it comes to the Convention Centre, has become an easy target for Opposition MPs and those doubting a top-down handling of the recovery.

A concept image for the Convention Centre Precinct on CCDU's website.

A concept image for Christchurch's Convention Centre Precinct. Photo: CCDU

The Government has given itself a mammoth task in Canterbury. It is a commercial partner in many ways, a property mogul, a boss, a corporate schmoozer as it works to attract investment and an urban designer.

At the same time it is facilitating private investment it has to protect the taxpayers' pocket.

Undeniably the Government has a lot of balls to juggle.

But there are too many unanswered questions.

How can the Government step back if so many projects are not even off the ground?

If the job description is anything to go by, it certainly doesn't sound as if CERA's functions, or Mr Brownlee's extraordinary powers, are being wound back any time soon.

Jenny Shipley, chairwoman of the city's transition advisory board, has recently handed over her first report to Mr Brownlee, advising him on how to scale back CERA and its staff numbers. It's not known if, or when, he will publicly release the board's plan.

Perhaps the Prime Minister can help clarify things for the country's second biggest city.

Meanwhile, figures released to Radio New Zealand show CERA spent $989,700 on telling people what it does and seeking feedback on its rebuild plans in the year to May - $317,700 more than last year.