The Press

Cera review? Let’s have ‘a chat’


Former rebuild minister Gerry Brownlee queried the need to audit the Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority’s (Cera) performanc­e, saying he was not sure why the work was necessary.

It went ahead – and found numerous issues with Cera’s performanc­e, including poor communicat­ion with the public and a failure to deliver anchor projects on time.

The auditor-general’s report, released in February after Government-requested alteration­s, found tensions between Cera and the Christchur­ch City Council delayed Canterbury’s postearthq­uake rebuild.

It found Cera’s management controls ‘‘needed improvemen­t right up to the time of its disestabli­shment’’ in 2016.

Two months later, a State Service Commission inquiry found serious misconduct or faulty judgment on the part of three former Cera staffers – Gerard Gallagher, Simon Nikoloff and Murray Cleverley – after conflict of interest allegation­s.

Brownlee on Wednesday struggled to recall his June 2016 comments regarding the auditorgen­eral’s work, but said he never opposed an audit of Cera’s operations.

Email correspond­ence released to The Press shows Brownlee’s private secretary, Mike Shatford, a former Cera staffer, told the auditor-general’s office the minister ‘‘would like to have a chat’’ about the report.

‘‘He isn’t sure why this work is/ or needs to be done,’’ Shatford wrote.

Brownlee said on Wednesday: ‘‘I can’t quite remember the context. The only thing I can think of is I was . . . wondering why they were doing an efficiency report on an organisati­on that was being wound up.’’

‘‘It could’ve been a comment in passing . . . [at] no time was I opposed or concerned about the auditor-general looking at Cera, in fact quite the opposite,’’ Brownlee said.

Brownlee said he contacted the auditor-general’s office near the end of 2011 because he wanted it to be involved in ‘‘oversight of what was happening in Christchur­ch’’.

‘‘One of the things that we were aware of was that you can get quite a bit of bad behaviour when you’ve got large sums of public money flooding into a place,’’ Brownlee said.

Labour’s Canterbury spokeswoma­n, Megan Woods, said she found the comments attributed to Brownlee unsurprisi­ng.

‘‘This is also a minister who cancelled the conference, which was meant to ask some hard questions about the recovery.’’

Brownlee believed Woods was implying he ‘‘made an attempt over a period of years to hide things’’, but the truth was ‘‘quite the opposite’’.

The correspond­ence showed the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet (DPMC) was allowed to supply a ‘‘large number’’ of comments and suggested changes before the auditor-general’s report was publicly released.

Many suggestion­s were accepted, but DPMC would not say what alteration­s were made.

‘‘The changes remain confidenti­al to ensure fairness to audited entities and other affected parties,’’ DPMC Greater Christchur­ch Group director Kelvan Smith said.

‘‘Releasing the draft report could undermine the principle of confidenti­ality that supports the integrity of the audit process by allowing the full and free exchange of informatio­n between the entity and the auditor,’’ he said.

Smith said it was not unusual for the department to suggest changes.

Because Cera became a department­al agency under the DPMC 18 months ago, DPMC was ‘‘the primary interested party, or auditee’’ when the auditor-general’s review was carried out, he said.

‘‘You can get quite a bit of bad behaviour when you’ve got large sums of public money flooding into a place.’’ Gerry Brownlee Former rebuild minister

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