Part 5: Accountability

Governance and accountability for three Christchurch rebuild projects.

In this Part, we discuss:

  • why accountability is important; and
  • the main findings about how well each project met our expectations about accountability.

Why accountability is important

Public accountability is how authorities using public resources explain their activities:

The level of citizen trust in the ability and motivation of decision-makers in authority determines how well society works. If decision-makers are required to explain their intentions, reasons and performance standards publicly, fully and fairly before they act, citizens can act fairly and sensibly to commend, alter or halt the intentions.4

Who is accountable for what, and who they are accountable to, needs to be clear. Everyone involved in the activity should understand the accountability framework.

When projects are funded by public money, the public has the right to know whether that money is well spent. If accountability is unclear, they cannot know who is ultimately responsible for the results.

Being accountable to the public means keeping the public informed about important decisions, how a project is progressing, and what results are being achieved. The public are often asked for their views about what they want from a project. Decision-makers should ensure that the public's views are heard. Those decision-makers should then tell the public how they have acted on those views.

Accountability for the project

We found no clear accountability frameworks for any of the three projects. In some instances, many of the people we spoke to did not understand accountabilities for their project well. This created uncertainty about the decisions each person or group could make.

Some specific accountabilities were clear. The terms of reference for the Bus Interchange Project Steering Group included some specific accountabilities for each part of the governance and management structure. For example, the terms of reference state that the Project Steering Group is accountable to the Central City Programme Steering Group for:

ensuring alignment with other CERA recovery programmes, procurement process, delivery, management of interdependencies, risks and issues, resourcing (within individual members financial delegations), and ultimately, achievement of the projects' goals as articulated in the Christchurch Central Recovery Plan.

Members of the HRPG had some specific accountabilities to the Ministers of Health and Finance. These were explained in Cabinet minutes and terms of reference. The new Project Steering Group for the New Central Library project also has terms of reference that list the group's responsibilities and who it reports to.

However, broader accountabilities were less clear. CERA explained that its project governance and management groups had an advisory role only and that individual CERA employees are accountable for decisions. These individual accountabilities tied in with financial delegations.

CERA's governance groups' advisory nature was not explained in project documents well. We were told that people found this confusing at first, but that it is not a problem now that people are used to it.

Accountabilities for the Acute Services Building project were poorly recorded and inconsistently understood. Nearly everyone we spoke to had a different understanding of the accountabilities for the project. Evidence such as Cabinet minutes suggests that the HRPG is advisory, but people were unsure what authority the HRPG has to make decisions and to commit the Ministry's resources to manage the project.

This had created no problems when we looked at the project. However, the HRPG's ability to govern the project could be at risk if, at some stage, the Ministry and the HRPG have conflicting views on the project.

The elected councillors are ultimately accountable for the New Central Library project, but internal mechanisms should be in place to support them. We found a reliance on line management relationships to provide that support, but it was not made clear how these applied to the project. In particular, several people told us that they were uncertain who is accountable for the project at a senior management level. At a lower level, accountabilities are in keeping with job descriptions and these are well understood. These also tended to be in line with financial delegations.

In our view, all three projects would benefit from recording a clear accountability framework that takes into account how broader accountabilities apply to the project, as well as more specific accountabilities.

Accountability to the public

All three projects are using public funding to build facilities that will provide services to the public. Therefore, the projects have some accountability to find out what the public wants and then report what they are delivering.

For the new Central Library, the Council consulted with the public in two stages. Share an Idea was an award-winning campaign that asked for ideas about the entire central city rebuild. This contributed to the Christchurch Central Recovery Plan. The more targeted campaign Your library, your voice followed this.

All ideas from the public have been made available on the Council's website, which also explains how these ideas were incorporated into the library design. This approach supports the Council's accountability to the public because people can see how the Council is delivering what the public said it wanted.

As an anchor project, the Bus Interchange was also part of Share an Idea. Consultation specifically for the Bus Interchange was restricted to targeted groups, such as passenger and operator groups. Information about how their comments influenced the Bus Interchange design have not been made public.

The Acute Services Building project has had less public consultation. Instead, user groups have provided structured input. How this information is being used is unclear.

CERA has kept the public well informed about the Bus Interchange project progress through dedicated project web pages and through its more general publications. These have included photographs and stories at important milestones. The Council also has information about the new Central Library, including pictures of the concept design, on its website.

The DHB and the Ministry jointly manage public communications for the Acute Services Building project. Most public information about the project seems to come through the DHB's website and publications circulated to the public. It was more difficult to find up-to-date information about which stage the project is at and when it is expected to be finished. In our view, this is information the public should know.


A clear accountability framework helps people know who is accountable to whom and for what. It should include accountabilities specific to the projects and broader accountabilities that relate to existing structures and reporting lines.

Providing accessible and up-to-date information to the public about the project supports public accountability. Showing how public input has been used provides more accountability.

4: See "Public Accountability and holding to Account", available at the Centre for Public Accountability website,, accessed on 6 April 2015.