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Wednesday, March 30, 2011

CERA (Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority) - a quick look

The new structure called CERA, (Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority) looks interesting. Being a public service based organisation, with all the accountabilities that accompany such organisations, there is good reason to believe that maximum accountability and transparency will be available.

Whether it provides for an implementation that is truly representative of the needs and desires of the residents of Christchurch and Canterbury remains to be seen. It is not yet clear whether the structure will permit the meaningful participation of the wider community, or allow the usual power bases to continue with the old policies and practices they have become comfortable with.

STRUCTURE - COMMUNITY FORUM

The structure is new to everyone, so understanding and appreciating its potential is some time off. However, when looking to find the extent to which community involvement is provided for, it is intriguing to see that reporting to the Minister (Gerry Brownlee) is a Community Forum. Consisting of Canterbury community leaders, it will have around twenty members, all appointed by the Minister. Who will the members be? From the Minister's press release (here) we get:
“A key early step will be the appointment of around 20 individuals to the Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Community Forum. This cross section of the many interest groups across the region will be an important conduit for the community to express what’s important to them in developing the plan for rebuilding Canterbury.”
The important point from this? These people are going to be the channel, and probably the only channel, through which the community's views can be expressed at the policy level. Involvement at this level allows for pro active participation. Everything else is reactive, trying to change or replace what has already been decided, or too advanced to be influenced. If this is going to be the case then who is appointed will be crucial to how the region recovers, and to the prospect of creating a successful urban and provincial community.

So, how will the appointment process work? Who will define the range of people needed, can they be nominated or will they come from a list held by some agency, what attributes must they have, how will they be identified, and by what criteria will they be selected? So far this is unknown.

Putting aside misgivings about Forum membership for now, the concept at first glance appears to be a good idea. It offers an opportunity for streamlining processes by avoiding the interminable time-absorbing stream of consultative meetings, conferences, processes, huis, and reviews that have become part of the New Zealand political landscape. It remains a good idea only so long as it doesn't become a closed group of narrow self interest activists carving out opportunities for themselves. As the Forum is required to meet only six times a year its usefulness may also depend on how much work it is willing to do.

THE RESIDENTS OF GREATER CHRISTCHURCH AS A PRIORITY

In the Authority's Questions and Answers about CERA document, available on CERA's website, residents' involvement take a relatively low priority. In that document, under the heading "What are the tasks and functions of CERA?" the document states CERA will "engage with other local and central government agencies, Ngai Tahu, businesses, and the local community". The community, the biggest group of all, being at the tail end.

It is interesting to compare this with wording in Cabinet papers, describing the need for the Authority in terms of "the significant co-ordination needed between local and central government, residents of greater Christchurch, Ngai Tahu, NGOs, business interests and the private sector;".  This latter quote places residents at a much higher level of priority. Middle of the night semantics, perhaps, but semantics are the tools of policy makers and implementers, and for the sake of a few words people can be easily dis-empowered.

You can find this quote in the following Cabinet papers (download them here):
  • Cabinet Minute of Decision: Canterbury Earthquake Recovery: Proposed Governance Arrangements (Paper 1), 3.4
  • Cabinet Minute of Decision: Canterbury Earthquake Recovery: Proposed Powers (Paper 2),
  • Cabinet paper: Paper 1: Canterbury Earthquake Recovery: Proposed Governance Arrangements, Recommendations 4, 4.4
  • Cabinet paper, Paper 2: Canterbury Earthquake Recovery: Proposed Powers, Para 15
  • Cabinet paper, Annex 2, Regulatory Impact Statement, Para 12

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