If you didn’t know better you could assume CERA stood for the Canterbury Events and Recreation Authority. Right from the top the minister wants the vision for the rebuilt Christchurch to be the sports capital of the country right down to the operational public facing Facebook page which is home to giraffes and cricket.
The question of what do CERA do is one I hear daily. Discussing and planning with different stakeholders and organisations associated with the rebuild it is asked a lot and brings a cloud of disorganisation over the entire recovery and rebuild when our city is fighting for a big picture vision and strong united leadership to steer us somewhere 4 years down the track.
CERA, or as it is properly named the Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority, was established after the February 2011 Earthquake as a time limited, single purpose, regionally located, public service department established to enable a “focused, timely and expedited” recovery of greater Christchurch. Cabinet recognised that the effort required to respond to the Canterbury earthquakes was beyond the capability of existing institutions and that new institutional arrangements with specific powers were required.
This all sounds really fantastic in theory but how has it worked in reality?
All disaster recovery models I have researched say that in the immediate aftermath of such a disaster like we experienced that direct near draconian leadership is required in order to make the tough decisions to move swiftly from response to recovery with the least impact on the wider social and economic areas. This style does makes it easy to lead from the front and it did happen that way. But as the phase changes from recovery to rebuilding the style of leadership also needs to change. In most cases especially in a society like we have in New Zealand a collaborative and supporting role with a desire to communicate and help people through the sticking points of the process is needed. This is where I see the identity of the monster bureaucracy being CERA is stuck.
In a CERA review July 2014 there were concerns expressed by CERA’s stakeholders about a lack of clarity about CERA’s purpose and functions. It was suggested this was because of the pressure on all stakeholders (including CERA) to focus on resolving and responding to day-to-day issues that has crowded out discussion among stakeholders about on-going roles and responsibilities.
The report went on to identify a consistent message from stakeholders about the desire for a stronger sense of community engagement and empowerment in the rebuild and recovery.
The Lead Reviewers were unable to identify what was driving the perception of a lack of community engagement and empowerment. However if you look to disaster and war recovery models and what has happened before, there is a clear pattern of what happens when the authority doesn’t communicate and collaborate. CERA have failed to do this by instead of being alongside people the take ideas, hold information back and resist being willing to side with the residents to unlock issues they face in their personal recovery such as the biggest disaster of all, insurance settlements.
Communication and engagement in the recovery process is the only way we are going to have strong communities in the long term. If people do not feel engaged in their rebuild then once the work slows down they will just leave leaving a hole in the social fabric of the city. Read the article only published yesterday by the Press which talks about the potential to lose all our younger talented people. Believe me it is already happening.
CERA have great powers to really make a difference. They could be facilitating open discussions, forums, idea think tanks, open doors for collaboration and foster ideas that people go to them with without having the desire to control it. Controlling everything is not working. Let the people and communities take that back and give the encouragement and resources to do it properly when needed. A great example of this is the work Eastern Vision did with the residential red zone ideas consultation, instead of working with CERA will take the feedback and do their own anyway.
There is a lot happening in the recovery now, much driven by private investors getting on with it on the edges of the doughnut city. To better see it you would think to look at the public facing CERA Facebook page. But when you do you will be shocked to find that of the past 50 posts by CERA 25 were about Giraffes, 16 about the Cricket World Cup with 4 being about the bus interchange precinct progress, 2 about demolition, 2 about the Avon River Precinct and 1 about transport.
The Giraffes were a brilliant thing for the city likewise is the Cricket World Cup but is this the job of CERA to focus almost all its communications towards and considering both are not actually events CERA have had involvement in securing to the city?
What is evident on their Facebook resonates widely with many others in the recovery space that CERA are more interested in the events, recreation and hosting of delegations than communicating, engaging and facilitating recovery to the people who live here. They wont even help a major company find staff to increase the building of homes because the cricket is more important right now. This is not what CERA was intended for as per the legislation and to top it off it was even noted in the review as an area of concern. This is why being called the Canterbury Events and Recreation Authority actually fits for CERA.
What the business community, the NGO sector and the residents who live here are crying out for is leadership. But the leadership has to take an understanding of the recovery process and be strong with that. Recovery is so fast moving that in some cases several people are needed for the different phases that suit their strengths.
People are asking what do CERA do. So is this the time for a new leadership direction to emerge? Maybe the city council long term plan that is due at any time could be something all sectors of the city buy into and set as a vision and empower us all to believe in.