OPINION: The Government this week announced its plans for the transition of power that must begin to take place when the Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Act expires in two years time.
The plans are an important indication of the Government's intentions to begin the transition of responsibility and power from the Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority to local government and other agencies, and remove or scale back powers Cera was given that are no longer needed.
Announcing the plans yesterday, Earthquake Recovery Minister Gerry Brownlee emphasised that the Government has confidence in its institutions but was also at pains to point out that the proposed changes did not indicate any lessening of its commitment to the recovery.
Mayor Lianne Dalziel warmly welcomed the plans, particularly the expression of confidence in local leadership. She hailed it as a turning point in the recovery because of the signal it sent to Christchurch people that the Crown knew it could work with the council in true partnership.
The announcement of the plan before the election is welcome as far as it goes, but voters might have expected more detail. It talks, for instance, of an advisory group of local government and other stakeholders to guide the development of the transition plan and decisions about which powers the earthquake recovery authority can discard and which it will need to retain. More information about who those people will be and how much input they will have would have been desirable.
The earthquake recovery act was passed in haste to create the recovery authority and arm it with powers to cope with a disaster on a scale never seen in New Zealand before. It was clear very early that the recovery of Christchurch would be beyond the capacity of the city council to handle alone, even if the council had been a model of efficiency and good governance. As events then and since have shown, the council was very far from that.
Transition back to Christchurch control was always intended, with an expiry date in 2016 built into the act. How to achieve it is not entirely straightforward.
The Government, through the earthquake recovery authority, is deeply involved in major projects which will need to continue. Some of the authority's powers are no longer needed and can be allowed to expire (some of them were never used) but others may need to be extended.
The city council must also show it is up to handling the responsibilities it will take on when the authority scales back. Continuing complaints about the council, such as its resource and building consent process, indicate it still has work to do.
The Labour Party issued its policy on Canterbury a while ago. It too was light on detail. A major point of difference would be the creation of a board of "qualified Cantabrians with relevant and appropriate skills" to run the earthquake authority instead of the minister (although it appears the authority would also still have a minister).
So far as voters are concerned, detailed information before the election on the future control of the recovery is likely to remain unsatisfactorily vague.
- The Press