7 Jun 2016

CERA spent $5m on travel in 5 years

4:25 pm on 7 June 2016

Staff at the now-defunct Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority (CERA) spent more than $5 million on travel during its five-year existence, according to official figures.

An Air New Zealand plane.

Photo: RNZ / Diego Opatowski

The figures, released today by the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet (DPMC), show the authority spent $600,000 on international travel and more than $4.7m on domestic travel.

Prime Minister John Key speaks to media about the Panama Papers whistleblower on 7 May 2016.

Prime Minister John Key Photo: RNZ / Cole Eastham-Farrelly

Prime Minister John Key said the spending was due in part to the demand for staff to share their knowledge.

The international costs included a $21,000 trip by the authority's project director to Singapore, Germany and Canada to visit stadiums.

As part of Christchurch's rebuild plan, the city is required to build a covered stadium in the city.

In the 2012/13 financial year, former chief executive Roger Sutton went to London and Geneva to visit the Francis Crick Institute and attend the UN Global Platform for Disaster Risk Reduction, with the trip costing more than $12,000.

Other costs include three staff travelling as part of a Cricket World Cup business delegation to Australia, India and the US during the 2014/15 financial year, at a cost of $21,500.

Other trips included staff travelling to Australia, Hong Hong, Dubai and the US to conduct "convention centre request for proposals interviews" in the 2013/14 financial year, which cost more than $48,000 for three staff.

The authority spent $1.9m on flights to and from Wellington from 2011 to mid-2015.

Mr Key told media the travel expenditure was understandable.

"CERA, of course, was a new organisation. They had a lot of information that a lot of people wanted, so I know there were some conferences that some of their people went to, to share experiences of how you deal with a major natural disaster, and obviously there were some learnings as well - but I need to get more detailed information."

DPMC spokesperson Kelvan Smith said CERA was only one of two government departments to have a head office based outside of Wellington.

"Due to the need to meet with other key government agencies, attend Cabinet committee meetings and ministerial meetings as required, domestic travel between Christchurch and Wellington was undertaken by senior staff on a regular basis.

"However, the use of teleconferencing and video conferencing was encouraged as much as possible.''

Mr Smith said international travel helped with the recovery, including the development of major projects for the benefit of the region.

"In regard to the international travel, there is a combination of learning from other nations to help the recovery of greater Christchurch - including the development of major projects for the benefit of the region; sharing CERA's experience with other nations (including those that assisted New Zealand in the emergency response phase); and staff development.

"As has been stated previously by CERA's leadership, as an organisation with a short lifespan, CERA took seriously its obligation to develop staff for careers after CERA, including those who are now working in the regeneration phase for greater Christchurch."

CERA was made redundant in April and was replaced by a new body known as Regenerate Christchurch, and another in charge of anchor projects, called Otakaro.

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