Auditor-General's overview

Roles, responsibilities, and funding of public entities after the Canterbury earthquakes.

The Canterbury earthquakes of 2010 and 2011 killed 185 people, damaged more than 100,000 homes, destroyed much of Christchurch's central business district, and badly damaged infrastructure. Christchurch and Canterbury will never be the same.

Canterbury has begun to recover. The rebuilding of homes, infrastructure, and the Christchurch central business district is under way. The recovery – a huge challenge for the country – is likely to take many years to complete. It presents many opportunities to rebuild a better Christchurch and Canterbury.

Rebuilding Canterbury is a priority for the Government. The Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority (CERA) is responsible for leading and co-ordinating the work of many public entities. CERA cannot and should not deliver the recovery alone. An effective recovery requires all involved – public sector agencies, communities, non-governmental organisations, and the private sector – to co-ordinate and collaborate well.

This report discusses the response of public entities. The recovery calls for many public entities to work in new and challenging ways. As this report shows, the administrative arrangements for the recovery are complex, reflecting a wide-ranging and challenging programme of tasks. Complexity is not necessarily bad – it can bring opportunities as well as challenges. I understand that the State Services Commission has identified many good examples of public entities working in new and more effective ways in response to the earthquakes.

Setting up a statutory authority or lead agency to co-ordinate recovery from a natural disaster is common practice overseas. In Australia, for example, the Queensland Reconstruction Authority was set up after the flood events and Cyclone Yasi in 2010/11. The Victorian Bushfire Reconstruction and Recovery Authority was set up after the bushfires in Victoria in 2009. Both had similar roles and mandates to CERA's. In my view, it is important that CERA's leaders use the lessons that these and other recovery authorities have learned, such as the need to support local councils to pursue their local recovery agenda under the framework of broader reconstruction policy.

I've visited Canterbury several times in the past year. I'm always impressed by the commitment and hard work of public officials. I particularly thank the people who let me visit their houses and who shared their experiences with me.

I believe that – for the recovery to be effective – and efficient it's important that all the agencies involved know what each is doing. If there is a lack of clarity, there is a risk that their work might not be mutually supportive, could lack direction, and could be wasteful because of duplication. Accountability could be unclear and, in the end, the effective use of public spending could be put at risk. Because rebuilding in a changing environment is complex, leaders in Canterbury must continually monitor these risks and take appropriate action to manage them.

The recovery is expensive. The Treasury estimates that the cost to the Crown will be about $13.5 billion. Christchurch City Council and other local authorities will continue to have significant expenses from the earthquakes. The rising cost of insurance has been expensive for public entities.

With so much public spending, I've made it a priority of my Office to provide assurance that the recovery is being carried out effectively, efficiently, and appropriately. To this end, my Office will look at four aspects of the recovery:

  • the roles and accountabilities of public entities;
  • public funding of the recovery;
  • public sector procurement; and
  • the effect of the earthquakes on insurance in the public sector.

This is my first report from this work. It provides an objective view of how the recovery is being run. In doing so, it describes how the recovery is being carried out, the roles of agencies, how the recovery is being funded, and what the main risks and challenges are – for the agencies involved and for Cantabrians. I intend to provide updates on these matters at appropriate intervals.

Signature - LP

Lyn Provost
Controller and Auditor-General

8 October 2012

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