29 Nov 2018

CERA 'took too long to put basic systems in place'

6:29 pm on 29 November 2018

The Canterbury earthquake recovery body took too long to introduce systems and controls, a forum has been told.

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CERA's processes improved over time although the Auditor-General's office was concerned until it was disestablished. Photo: RNZ / Diego Opatowski

Auditor-General John Ryan has told the Earthquake Symposium in Christchurch that his organisation had concerns about the Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority's (CERA) system throughout its existence.

Mr Ryan made a presentation this morning on the first day of the two-day Earthquake Symposium at Canterbury University. He was giving an update on lessons learnt by his organisation about its role in the earthquake response.

He said the role of the office of the Auditor-General was to carry out audits on all public entities, and it was able to look at trends and patterns.

Mr Ryan told the symposium that good systems and controls were important to ensure people had trust and confidence in an organisation.

He said the Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority, known as CERA, and set up in the wake of the earthquake to manage the response and recovery, was operating in a high pressure situation which has been likened to building a plane while flying it.

"CERA though took too long to put basic systems and controls in place, we didn't see delegations, we didn't see good programme management, we didn't see risk management put in place. While over time those things improved, right up until the end of CERA's time we were raising those concerns."

He said another lesson was that some people did not feel that they were at the centre of the recovery.

Mr Ryan said while it was important to celebrate success they also needed to be honest about what they did not know, and set realistic expectations.

"There is a real push to get clarity for people and to know when the next milestone is, when they will be fixed, and when things will get better. Often people are forced into stretched goals which they probably won't meet. EQC insurance claims and anchor projects - those things led to disenchantment with people who were expecting particular deadlines and particular dates to be met and they weren't."

He said CERA's early leadership worked well, but it lost its momentum as it moved into reconstruction.

"CERA became a catchall and there was a lot of focus on doing rather than leading. That can work for a while but you run out of petrol... and you start to lose the confidence of the community because you're not leading."

Mr Ryan said former Auditor-General Lyn Provost included a message in a report that had been a reminder to "involve the community in the decision making. That the community endures, but you leave. It is their recovery".

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