Que Sera CERA? Catch-February 22

29Mar11

”The review panel will provide the valuable function of independent scrutiny so the public can have confidence that CERA is carrying out its role appropriately.”  Earthquake Minister Gerry Brownlee

‘ “Catch-22 states that agents enforcing Catch-22 need not prove that Catch-22 actually contains whatever provision the accused violator is accused of violating…”  “That’s some catch, that Catch-22,” he observed. “It’s the best there is,” Doc Daneeka agreed.’   Joseph Heller Catch-22

CERA, the Kafkaesque sounding Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority,  is the brand new “stand alone” government department, with widespread powers, created to manage the rebuilding of Canterbury for five years following the lethal February 22 earthquake*.

Just how stand alone in the big issue. Christchurch Mayor Bob Parker talks of the Christchurch City Council playing the lead role, but in the end the piper paying principle will prevail.

At today’s CERA launch by the PM, Earthquake Recovery Minister Gerry Brownlee said the authority would coordinate the recovery effort and have the power to relax, suspend or extend laws and regulations to allow faster decision making on key aspects of the rebuild.

”These are essentially reserve powers and there will be checks and balances on the use of these powers so the public can have confidence they are being used wisely and with restraint..” *

The powers include the power to acquire, hold, deal with and dispose of property and Brownlee’s ominous ability to “call-in” the powers and functions of a local authority or council organisation.

There were no Brownlee points for Labour MP Clayton Cosgrove MP when he said before the announcement ”So far my colleagues and I have had no success in getting through to Earthquake Recovery Minister Gerry Brownlee or to other Ministers, who are turning their backs on proper consultation and seem set on imposing their own solutions on Canterbury people…” *

Gerry meandering means a concentration of power in the hands of non elected bureaucrats.  The Government’s had a trial crack at this with the replacement of Canterbury Environment Councillors with commissioners pre-Earthquake I.

The combination of unbridled power with specious legalistic justification is one of the main motifs of Joseph Heller’s Catch 22: “You have no respect for excessive authority or obsolete traditions. You’re dangerous and depraved, and you ought to be taken outside and shot!”…

What’s been exercising  local Yossarians in Christchurch recently is how to circumvent the double bind of Catch-22 and get in the Red Zone? Until recently, at least, if you asked Civil Defence if you could go inside the cordoned off CDB to grab the tools of your business, they’d say no, whether you were a business owner or a building owner. However, if you asked someone else-say a demolition firm-you might just get away with using a crane to get you into your building if the stairs had gone awol*.

Things have taken a turn for the better. Last week I finally got into my green stickered offices in the Red Zone, 50 metres from the collapsed PGG Building, for three hours via some civil Civil Defence types.

But the  longer term view now needs clear focus.  Brownlee said at the CERA launch that it was important that the public have confidence that the powers would be used judiciously. They would have been more confident if the new boss had been named and present at the launch. Having the deputy State Services Commissioner as the interim chief executive is not a good look*.

Here’s a thought: 20 appointed citizens “representatives” are all very fine, but  if you really don’t want to engage the grassroots citizens of Christchurch in a messy but creative on-going consultation process before big decisions about the rebuild are taken, not afterwards, like most ex post facto local government “consultations”,  kill two birds with one earthquake cracked stone.  Offer Muammar Gaddafi the CERA CE job for a resettlement payment of,  say, $NZ24 Billion, which will just about cover the rebuild of the city.  The Libyan Liberator hates high rise buildings and wouldn’t mind camping out in one of the new open spaces in the CBD, especially if he is looked after by his usual bevy of burqa wearing bodyguards.*

Meanwhile, there has only been one Canterbury Quake in the last 24 hours, compared with an average of 28 per day since 4 September 2010. The sudden quietude makes me quite nervous. Oh well, as Doris Day sang: “Que Sera, Sera / Whatever will be, will be / The future’s not ours to see / Que Sera, Sera …”.

But fatalism can be fatal.  A process which truly engages people over the next 9 months  in developing  a shared vision for New Christchurch could be our way of getting more than a glimpse of the future we are going to build together. The secret is the  sequence of the process, not its speed.

 Que Sera CERA?

#Lyall Lukey 29 Mar  2011
http://www.lukey.co.nz/  http://www.smartnet.co.nz
http://lukeytraining.wordpress.com/ My other (bit more serious) blog

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One Response to “Que Sera CERA? Catch-February 22”

  1. 1 Neville Aitchison

    Lyall,
    This is right on the mark. Devastatingly so. I agree totally with the insights and enjoyed both the clarity and the cleverness. The only thing I would add is that in the decision making process there should be engineers involved. So far I see only politicians, architects, seismologists and construction people.
    Cheers, Neville


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