Crown company Otakaro Ltd not a 'public office'

Otakaro chief executive Albert Brantley.
LAWRENCE SMITH / STUFF

Otakaro chief executive Albert Brantley.

Christchurch's new Crown company doesn't have to abide by public record-keeping standards, despite being in charge of millions of dollars of taxpayers' money. 

As the dust settles on Christchurch's new recovery entities and structure, it appears Otakaro Limited can operate like a private commercial company. 

It has two ministerial shareholders – Greater Christchurch Regeneration Minister Gerry Brownlee and Finance Minister Bill English. 

The new design of Christchurch's convention centre.
SUPPLIED

The new design of Christchurch's convention centre.

Otakaro is tasked with delivering the Government-led anchor projects – such as the convention centre and metro sports precinct – and managing Crown assets, including surplus land in the central city and the residential red zones. 

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Archives New Zealand has assessed the new organisation and found, for the purposes of the Public Records Act, it is not classed as a "public office". 

A concept drawing of the planned metro sports facility.
SUPPLIED

A concept drawing of the planned metro sports facility.

Chief archivist Marilyn Little's assessment said Otakaro was not "an agency or instrument of the executive government". 

It is not bound by the Public Records Act, which is intended to hold the Government to account by ensuring full and accurate records are maintained and preserved. 

However, an Otakaro spokesman said the company was committed to keeping records and was developing a document retention policy.

"A comprehensive document management system has been in place since Otakaro's establishment to ensure the requirements of the Official Information Act are met and the company can operate effectively," the spokesman said. 

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Little's assessment said decisions made by Otakaro's chief executive, Albert Brantley,​ and board of directors were not acts of the responsible ministers.

Otakaro is classed as a Schedule 4A company under the Public Finance Act, meaning it can incur expenses or capital expenditure ahead of a budget appropriation. 

"The Crown is not liable to contribute towards the payment of any debts or liabilities of a Schedule 4A company," Little said. 

Otakaro's financial statements will be audited by the Auditor-General and there are restrictions regarding how much it can borrow.

Earthquake recovery critic and accountant Cam Preston asked Brownlee's office to release a signed copy of the funding agreement between the Crown and Otakaro. 

Brownlee declined, saying the need for Otakaro to carry out commercial activities without "prejudice or disadvantage" outweighed the public interest in making the agreement available. 

Former Christchurch mayor Garry Moore requested copies of Otakaro's board meeting minutes but Brantley declined, citing various reasons under the Official Information Act. They included preventing the disclosure of official information "for improper gain or advantage".

"The company is operating in a highly sensitive commercial environment, as many of the projects for which Otakaro is responsible are currently transitioning to procurement and pre-construction phases," Brantley said. 

Budget documents from earlier this year showed $500 million worth of assets and capital was transferred to Otakaro.

That figure did not represent the total expenditure on anchor projects, and Cabinet was able to make changes or approve additional funding, Brownlee said.

WHO DOES WHAT?

Regenerate Christchurch

- Jointly owned and funded by the Crown and Christchurch City Council. 

- Has a broad planning and engagement role.

- Will develop regeneration plans for the city's residential red zones, central city and New Brighton. It can also develop plans for other parts of the city. 

- Greater Christchurch Recovery Minister Gerry Brownlee has the power to approve or decline plans but there are checks and balances in place to ensure a good reason for doing so. 

Otakaro Ltd

- Crown-owned company in charge of delivering Government-led anchor projects, including the convention centre, Avon River precinct and metro sports facility.

- Will manage Crown-owned land in the central city and residential red zone. 

- Will represent the Crown's interests in the red zones and ensure opportunities for a financial return are considered. 

- Accountable to a board of directors: Ross Butler (chairman), Peter Townsend, Miriam Dean and Corinne Haines.

Greater Christchurch Group (Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet)

- Assumed some of the Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority's functions, including monitoring the recovery.

- Provides policy advice to ministers and government departments. 

- Leading the 'recovery learning and legacy programme'.

Development Christchurch Ltd

- A subsidiary of city council-owned Christchurch City Holdings Ltd.

- Provides strategic advice to the council.

- Helps facilitate investment in the city, such as the Christchurch Adventure Park. 

 - Stuff

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