Friday, 12 October 2012

Democracy on a slippery slope ~ Christchurch earthquake aftermath

The geological disaster of Canterbury's earthquakes has been succeeded and arguably surpassed by the disaster of recovery processes: disaster in relation to democratic processes, for one, and disaster in relation to the widespread pulverisation of our city's building materials for another, a portion of them irreplaceable heritage materials.  Democratic processes have been firmly set aside leaving the people with next to no rights to oppose decisions made by authorities.  The people of Christchurch have been shut out of the recovery process in the most humiliating manner possible.  This has added a strong sense of insult to existing injuries.


In this article I explore the political and administrative regimes of these 'extraordinary times', find out what they are, how they are defined and the way in which their powers have been applied in a situation of major and shifting crises.

The earthquakes created havoc on a massive scale in New Zealand's second largest city, far greater than the region could be expected to deal with by itself, so it was necessary that national resources were mobilised to assist.  It is a matter of great disappointment that the resulting political assistance has come in the form of an unyieldingly autocratic takeover staged by those in central government.  Those at present occupying positions of power are there by government appointment while democratically elected locals have since been sidelined.  Many are calling the result a dictatorship, which is a fair representation to what has come to pass. 

In examining how this situation has arisen and where the authority has come from I have gone back over the history of the Government's response following the first big quake of 4th September 2010, and looked at subsequent reactions and events, combing the websites of newspapers and the governing bodies themselves.  Like so much else in the earthquake aftermath the picture is complex and news coverage inconsistent.

The similarity of names and titles of legislation, bodies, commissions and other groups as well as their different functions can readily lead to confusion and for this reason I have described each of these as clearly as possible even though their existence may not be all that prominent or may since have been disestablished.  They are all important reference points in the overall scheme. 

CHRISTCHURCH'S POST-EARTHQUAKE POWER STRUCTURES - A TIME LINE AND COMMENTARY: 
4th September 2010 - FIRST EARTHQUAKE occurred at 4.35 in the morning.  There was a great deal of damage but fortunately no deaths.
7th September 2010: Prime Minister Key said "he wants Mr Brownlee to cut through the bureaucracy":
In my view there is a major problem looming right here in that one phrase, of cutting though bureaucracy: the whole point of bureaucracy is that provides standards and safeguards for the wider community both now and in the future.  Cutting though it could easily jeopardise those standards and safeguards, and quite possibly place too much reliance on the judgement and integrity of individuals.  However, in the situation at hand streamlining and co-ordination of processes and resources was very much needed and a lot of what was set up as a result seemed to be geared in that direction, at least in principle.
14th September 2010 - CANTERBURY EARTHQUAKE RESPONSE AND RECOVERY ACT 2010, was passed authorising the establishment of the Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Commission.
Under the provisions of the Act the Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Commission was set up to co-ordinate and oversee the recovery process across the region.  The following information is drawn from CERA's web page as linked to above:
  • The commissioners were: the mayors of each of the three territorial authorities (Christchurch City Council, Waimakariri District Council and Selwyn District Council), in addition to four government appointees which included an Environment Canterbury (ECan) Commissioner and an independent chair.  That's seven people in total.
  • The Commission's function was to 
    • Provide advice to the relevant Minister in relation to Orders in Council (Orders) made under the Act;
    • Provide advice in relation to prioritising resources and allocating funding; and
    • Provide a key contact point between central and local government in responding to and managing the recovery from the Canterbury Earthquake.
The Act itself was poorly formulated and even at this early stage alarm bells about dangers to democracy began to be sounded, as in this article which was published on the same date:
The Act was further criticised through the Opinion column of The Press:
It began with this preamble: "The Public Issues Committee of the Auckland District Law Society considers that the Canterbury Earthquake Response and Recovery Act 2010 is one of the most extreme legislative acts ever seen in New Zealand."  It noted with concern that there had been little public debate.  The Society compared it to legislation created in the wake of the Napier earthquake of 1931 and goes on to say:
'Regulations under the Public Safety Conservation Act 1932 were intended to be passed only during periods of national or local emergency, and had to be referred to Parliament for subsequent approval. However, the Canterbury Earthquake Response and Recovery Act 2010 has no such limitations, and permits the amendment of all acts of Parliament (although not regulations) for any purpose.  It has long been an established constitutional principle that the Crown could not legislate without Parliament.'
The legislation of 1932 was repealed in 1987.  Geoffrey Palmer is quoted as having said that the repeal removed from New Zealand law...
"Acts of the widest possible scope, under which it was possible to make regulations of the widest possible character to govern the country by executive fiat without reference to Parliament".
In the Society's opinion the 2010 Act was another such act but "much more all-encompassing legislation", which is alarming.

Possibly most of the population were too overwhelmed by the scale of events to take much notice.  Who could have guessed what was so soon to follow!
22nd February 2011 - SECOND MAJOR EARTHQUAKE occurred at 12.51pm resulting in city-wide havoc and 185 deaths.

23rd February - A National State of Emergency was declared by the government:

29th March 2011 - the Prime Minister announced the formation of CERA, the Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority.  The Government 'Beehive' website describes it as
'a stand-alone government department [established] to enable an effective, timely and co-ordinated rebuilding and recovery effort in Canterbury.  CERA will have a lifespan of five years and its operations will be reviewed annually.'
You can read more about it here:  
This article authored by Roger Sutton, CEO of CERA, gives a more comprehensive overview:
I'm puzzled by the date and title of the briefing as at that time Gerry Brownlee had been in the job for over a year.  However, the content is informative.

EQC, The Earthquake Commission:
This is an existing government department which has played a major role in the earthquake aftermath.  Their website says that:
'EQC provides natural disaster insurance for residential property, administers the Natural Disaster Fund, and funds research and education on natural disasters and ways of reducing their impact.' 
Although they have had a massive and unenviable role they are not involved in political power-wielding that I am aware of.  I mention them here to distinguish them from CERA, whose role alongside the Earthquake Recovery Minister is the dominantly powerful authority in the region. 

The Government may well have accepted that the Canterbury Earthquake Response and Recovery Act of 2010 could be improved on.  In any case in April of 2011 a different act replaced it:

18th April 2011: CANTERBURY EARTHQUAKE RECOVERY ACT 2011 - legislation came into force, and expires "on the close of the day that is 5 years after the date of its commencement"This repealed the previous post-earthquake legislation, the Canterbury Earthquake Response and Recovery Act 2010.  With the inception of the new Act the Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Commission was dissolved. 

The Act establishes the authority of the Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Minister, at present MP Gerry Brownlee, and the new government department CERA (the Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority), and the structures through which they function.

The following articles provide helpful analysis:
  • Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Act - article dated May 2011 on the website of Adderley Head, a firm which specialises in Resource Management Law.  It is well worth a read: 
    • It contains advice about the ways in which one can and cannot engage with legal and or public consultative processes.
    • It refers to the development of a Long-Term Recovery Strategy to be worked out between the four local government bodies, Ngai Tahu and "other necessary parties"
    • It points out that the "Development of the draft Recovery Strategy will include an opportunity for the public to make written submissions and one or more public hearings where members of the public may appear and be heard.  The draft Recovery Strategy must be developed within nine months of the Act coming into force.  Once the Recovery Strategy is operative, Council plans may not be read or applied in a way that is inconsistent with it." 
    • Recovery Plans are then formulated from the Strategy. Significantly "the Act does not specifically detail how Recovery Plans will be developed, this decision is left to the Minister."
    • The Act outlines the statutory powers of the Minister and of CERA: these range from entering property, acquiring, selling or otherwise dealing with it, suspending council documents, policy and plans, cancelling resource consents, and more.
    • Appeal rights? you ask.  What appeal rights?  "There is generally no ability to appeal a decision of the Minister or CERA, except for appeals to the High Court and higher courts in certain circumstances, including appeals against a resource consent or notice of requirement decision specified in a Recovery Plan as subject to appeal rights, and appeals against a determination of compensation."
  • Summary and analysis of the Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Act - this article dated 4th May 2011, on the Buddle Findlay solicitors website, gives an analysis of its content and possible implications.  The writers' view about how the Recovery Plans might be implemented was cautiously optomistic:
    • 'The basic structure of the recovery process under the Act is clear: CERA is a central decision-making authority, directing councils and other local organisations to implement its Recovery Strategy.  It appears, however, that the more practical Recovery Plans will be the responsibility of local authorities and community organisations, either as a result of being directed by the chief executive or as the result of an organisation's own request that it be responsible for particular issues or areas.  Accordingly, community organisations and local authorities, in particular, are likely to have a significant role in shaping the recovery.'
Sadly, this optimistic expectation has not come to pass, but more of that later.
In my search for information about the other governing structures established to work in collaboration with CERA and the Recovery Minister I found helpful information on the CERA website but not where it might have been expected: it is contained in: The Annual Review (June 2012) of the Canterbury Recovery Act 2011. The review was carried out and the report written by Simon Murdoch.  It can be found on CERA's 'Library page', under the tab marked 'Legislation'.  Note that the quoted comments below are from the Review.  The groups are as follows:
  • The Cross-Party Parliamentary Forum (CPPF): comprised of all local members of parliament: Lianne Dalziel, Jim Anderton (until November 2011), Nicky Wagner, Dr Kennedy Graham.  Note that "There is no requirement on the Minister, in law, to have regard to that information or advice in carrying out his duties." (Page 10)
  • The Community Forum (CF): 39 appointees (from 240 nominations to the minister).  According to this report: "As with the CPPF, there are knowledge management and transparency challenges, to be worked through". (Page 12)  He states that the group "now meets twice monthly, and has dedicated secretarial support, as well as access to CERA facilitation services."  (More about this later.)
  • Review Panel - appointed under Section 72 of the CER Act: Sir John Hansen, Chair
    Dame Jenny Shipley, Murray Sherwin and Anake Goodall.  Unlike the two groups already mentioned this panel carries some clout.  The report (on pages 7 and 8) has this to say about it: 
27. Alongside the CER Minister and the relevant portfolio Ministers in discharging this right of access to extraordinary powers sits a 4 person expert body, the Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Review Panel.  The Panel, which must be supported by CERA, is charged to review draft Orders-in-Council before they can be recommended to Cabinet and the Executive Council.  The Panel is required to provide advice, in the form of a report with 8 recommendations, to which Ministers must have regard in their proposal to Cabinet for an Order-in-Council.  The Act also requires the Minister to publicly notify the Panel’s recommendations and table them in Parliament. (My italics)
28. There was considerable debate in the Committee stages of the CERA legislation about the balance to be struck between the extent of the intended “centralised framework of enhanced (executive) powers” required for the recovery and rebuild, and the normal balances and checks upon the Executive which apply in New Zealand law and constitutional practice.  In that context, besides exerting influence over the Executive in regard to the substantive exercise of the extraordinary powers by the Executive, the Panel is also important as a watchdog.   From my discussions and observations the Panel has been influential; it’s testing of the “case” for an intervention has been thorough, and consistent. Officials have been sent back to think again; Ministers have been advised to accept variations to the proposals initially put to them.  There has been no Parliamentary debate about the tabled reports. (Again, the italics are mine.)
At the close of his report Mr Murdoch concludes that on the whole, the Act is being applied as intended.  
Is this Act any better than its predecessor? 
In searching the Web on these subjects I find it strange that there was so little criticism of the extent of statutory powers encompassed in this second piece of legislation, either through journalistic editorials or by the legal profession.  Possibly the nation, including our usual watchdogs, was too shocked and taken up with the disaster itself to pay much attention to it.  Also, it seems likely that few suspected that the far-reaching powers affirmed in it would end up being applied so contentiously.

In my view too much power rests in the judgement of the Minister and in CERA, whose decisions and processes can only be contested in a very limited way. 
MP Leanne Dalziel, the Labour Party's spokesperson for Earthquake related affairs, has been vocal on the subject.  In the following article she voices her criticism of the Act comprehensively:
The heading of the article refers to her clarification that she will not be running for mayor in the next local bodies elections, but rather has Brownlee's job in her sights.  The article goes on to say:
'She did not want to be mayor of a city where the Government was so blatantly controlling things that the council could not do what it was elected to do.
"It's really important that the mayor is able to have a relationship with the Government, and I think it's important for the people of Christchurch too," she said.
"I cannot accept some of the decisions that the Government has made [and] that they have stripped the Christchurch City Council of its democratic role.  The Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Act is a disgrace.  The reason I want to be the minister is to put in a layer of governance between the minister and the chief executive of Cera so that Roger Sutton, who is the right person for the job, in my view, is able to do his job properly." '
From browsing news items from the past six months or so it's clear that other local MPs are feeling much the same, Green MP Eugenie Sage being one of them:
But where are our local body politicians, especially the mayors of the area, and what does Christchurch Mayor Bob Parker think?
Mayor Parker seems to have kept fairly quiet and to some extent this is understandable.  The authority carried by the Earthquake Recovery Minister and CERA enables them to over-ride other authorities, including local body government, and it is helpful to keep this in mind when considering their positions: basically the Mayor and Council can be directed to do as they are told and hence are removed from their customary roles of leadership and governance and reduced to the role of seeing that basic practical services are provided.  A council too vocally in opposition to those with higher authority could run the risk of being sacked, as in the case of E-Can, the Canterbury Regional Authority, about which I have written more below.  Mayor Parker would be fully aware of this.  There had already been enough trouble within the ranks of politicians there to attract unwelcome attention, which may have taken them close to that fate. 

You can read more about the division of responsibility on the Council's website:

WORK BEGAN ON RECOVERY PLANS:
The City Council conducted the  "Share an idea project" as a forerunner to developing the draft Recovery Plan:
Local input began well with the enthusiasm of residents reflected in a massive number of submissions placed - over 106,000 ideas were generated. You can read more about it here:
  • Share your ideas for city redevelopment - The Press, 6th May 2011
  • Share an idea - This web page is on Christchurch City Council website, and states that "These ideas were brought together to help inform the draft Central City Plan as a broadly agreed structure and direction for the Central City."
City Council staff gathered up the submissions, sorted through them, and took them into consideration when drawing up its draft Central City Recovery Plan.  This was then submitted to Gerry Brownlee, the Earthquake Recovery Minister.  This process seems to have involved at least two drafts, the first being in presented to the Minister in August 2011.

The response from the Government was conveyed to Mayor Bob Parker by Roger Sutton, CEO of CERA, whose memorandum is dated 28th September.  A brief précis can be found on CERA'a web page below and also the link to the memorandum itself:
CERA's website says that "The Government did not make a formal written comment on the draft recovery plan and is therefore not appearing at the Council hearings on the document."  The tone of the memorandum is cordial, even congratulatory.  In a CERA press release issued on 11th October Mr Sutton says "the City Council is to be congratulated for preparing the draft plan so quickly and for the level of community engagement during its development". 

December 2011: the Christchurch City Council submitted its final draft Central City Recovery Plan:
'The draft Central City Plan will not become a Recovery Plan for the purposes of the Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Act until such time as the plan is approved by the Minister for Earthquake Recovery.  The approval process will be initiated by the Council publicly notifying the draft plan adopted in December 2011.  The notice will include details about where the plan can be viewed and invite written comments to be made to the Minister for Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority.  The Minister may make any changes, or no changes, to the draft Central City Plan or withdraw all or any part of it.  If the draft is approved, that decision will also be publicly notified and the Central City Plan made available for inspection.'
This is a reiteration of what is spelt out in the Act, which states that input about the recovery from the public was able to be submitted up to that particular point after which it was up to CERA and the Minister to decide what they did with it.  This is the last point at which the public was able to make submissions in any meaningful way - End Of Story. 

Leanne Dalziel, MP, was rightly pessimistic about the likely outcome:
Whereas Mayor Bob Parker took a much happier view: 
This makes it obvious that he had not been party to what had been happening within CERA:
18th April 2012 : the Minister announced the formation of a special purpose group within CERA, the Christchurch Central Development Unit, generally referred to as the CCDU.  It's purpose is to "lead and facilitate the finalisation and implementation of a Recovery Plan working in close collaboration with the CCC, Te Rūnanga o Ngāi Tahu and other key stakeholders.  CCDU were given a time frame of 100 days to provide a finalised document to the Minister for approval."  The 100 days would finish at the end of July 2012.

Leanne Dalziel spoke bluntly about the supposed collaboration saying that: "the relationship between council and Government has become "disingenuous".  "The reality is there has been no collaboration between councillors and the government about the proposal," she said.  "The fact that the Mayor and the members of the Christchurch City Council learned the fate of their proposal at 4pm yesterday is a travesty of process and substance."
The general public could be expected to be fairly much in the dark about the degree of flexibility that might remain in relation to planning.  An article published in The Press suggested that it could be useful to keep the planning situation very flexible for quite some time.  The case for it is well thought out, and I think makes sense:
Meanwhile, as indicated above, dissent and dysfunction within the ranks of Christchurch City Council's politicians and senior management had created serious problems and undermined public confidence in them.  This has been most unfortunate.  Reviews were called for.  One review also speaks of a disconnection of Council from residents: 
Adding to difficulties, City Council Chief Executive Officer, Tony Marryatt, attracted considerable criticism from councillors and the public alike, a situation which continues to grumble on in the background:
This political climate may have reinforced the closed-door mentality of the CCDU as it re-worked the Recovery plan to its own satisfaction.  Certainly it could easily have given them a good excuse to do so, should they have looked for one. 

Despite all this the people of Christchurch value their council and democratic processes.  Criticism of Minister Brownlee and CERA was rising, as in this article:
'...the criticisms focus on the structure of CERA and the capacity of Brownlee as its decider-in-chief.  Many have pointed to a lack of checks and balances on Brownlee's authority.  The Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Act mandates for a community forum and a cross-party parliamentary forum.  However, both these bodies are only allowed to advise, Dalziel says.  The minister doesn't have to listen, and Canterbury MPs, in particular, feel they have been getting the Brownlee brush-off.'
Again MP Leanne Dalziel has been vocal.  She can afford to be - she isn't part of the National Government or one of their appointees.  Mr Brownlee has no authority over her.

This brings us back to the matter of the Community Forum, which I have mentioned above:
I am puzzled by the existence of this group.  In early 2011 the initial response to its formation seems to have been positive, but even at that stage some Community Board members raised the question as to whether or not they, who are already conversant with their communities, were to be included in or sidelined by this new forum.  My question is: how can there be a need for both?
The simplest conclusion I have reached is that members of the Forum are appointed by the Government, and are therefore unquestionably under their authority, whereas members of Community Boards are democratically elected by locals.  The Forum is advisory only so perhaps it doesn't matter, but it should! 

I have spent quite some time looking for announcements and information relating to this group, but beyond what I found in Simon Murdoch's Annual Report about the Act, as linked to and commented on above, I found very little about it.  The CERA website provides this information on their website:
'The Community Forum has been established by Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Minister Gerry Brownlee to provide him with information and advice on earthquake recovery matters.  It consists of 34 members from a wide cross-section of the Canterbury community representing business and ethnic interests, as well as residents associations and groups.' 
There is a link on that web page to a list of members, which includes brief biographical information about most of them.
  • Community Forum meeting notes - Also on the same web page this link provides access to copies of documents (in PDFs) of meeting 'notes'.  These have been released according to the requirements of the Official Information Act and each page has been stamped accordingly from top to bottom.  Certain sections which someone has decided are necessary to keep secret have been deleted and marked 'withheld according to...'.   I wonder who was responsible for insisting on this access, as last time I looked these notes were not displayed on this page.  
Conspicuously absent from information provided are contact details other than the post office box number which appears on the notes.

There seems to be little or no other public record of what this group has been up to.  A small press release from CERA states the groups endorsement of the CCDU Blueprint:
Since the Forum was established to work with CERA, which is the parent body of the CCDU, their endorsement is hardly surprising.

All this is in stark contrast with the high standard of information relating to City Council meetings and that of its community boards:
It is also in contrast with the spirit of CERA's own statements about community involvement, which you can read about on this webpage:
I found its content a jaw-dropping contrast both to the stated nature of their role as outlined in the Act, as well as the rigidity of their decisions and the extent to which they present plans as fiat accompliThey say they aim to:
'...communicate to and work with people in a range of ways, from sharing information, to asking for feedback; from problem solving and planning together to supporting people to shape their own futures and make their own decisions.
We will work with communities, recognising the diversity of need and perspectives across greater Christchurch and commit to building and nurturing the relationships which will support our recovery.  We know that CERA cannot do this alone; international research on recovery suggests it works best when communities are included in the decisions which affect them.
We aim to rebuild and revitalise greater Christchurch and where possible, empower communities and build the capacity of agencies to work in partnerships to achieve a full recovery.'
Taking these statements at face value, CERA must find public expressions of dissent somewhat shocking!  Personally, I think they would have done better to make simpler statements that more accurately reflect their statutory authority.


31st July 2012: the CCDU of CERA announced their Recovery Plan and the Blueprint which is part of it. 
That evening, while those involved with it raised their glasses and congratulated each other in a private function, disillusioned residents whose homes were zoned TC3 and whose pressing needs had not been addressed, stood outside in the rain and cold with their protest placards.
These people have a great deal to complain about.  You can read more about their situation here:
Details of the plan can be found on the CCDU web page:
To re-state what I have already mentioned above, the Recovery Plan has to comply with the principles set out in CERA's Recovery Strategy.  This can be found on CERA's web page entitled
I've written about my response to the announcement of the Blueprint in my article:
I won't repeat that content here other than to say that I'm not happy about it at all.

However, whether I like it or not is rather beside the point: it's the principles of the process that I object to most: that decisions regarding the Blueprint are not able to be challenged or changed either by individual objections or by public pressure, and that there is no channel for further input from the community, for affected businesses or landowners; CERA and the Minister can do exactly as they please with the only arguable point being the degree of compensation paid for seized properties and the like.  The articles below speak to this latter point:
I consider decisions themselves to be less important than the processes and wider involvement that precedes them... and the right of reply and appeal that should follow!

My other concerns are about the speed at which the massive project of rebuilding the centre of Christchurch is being shoved along as well as the prodigious expense – to the people of Christchurch.  To even begin to imagine that any kind of blueprint for an entire city centre could be worked out, never mind finalised, in less than 100 days, is delusional.  What is the hurry?  People living in wrecked houses with no solution in sight, that's where the hurry needs to be.

It's important to have plans and parameters, yes, but the best solutions arise from patient, flexible and inclusive problem-solving which is worked out over time.
 
WHAT HAPPENED AT E-CAN?
Added to the governance crisis in Christchurch is the loss of democracy from the Canterbury Regional Council known as Environment Canterbury, commonly referred to as E-Can:
Dissent over water rights in the province gave the Government reason (they thought!) to sack elected councillors and to replace them with government appointed commissioners.  Whether these problems were real of perceived remains open to debate, but the fact remains that the role of government would more correctly have been to provide support and facilitation to assist elected incumbents in working through issues rather than simply replacing them with their own appointees.  Democratic processes can not simply be discarded when difficulties arise without discarding democracy itself.

The lengthy article linked to below gives good coverage of the situation at E-Can, outlining the history of the 'takeover' and the context of its relationship with the city of Christchurch: 

But behind all this sits the attitude of the present National Government, which is what?  The following article sums up the flavour of what has been going on: 
Alarmingly the revelation is made that:
'Last month, Local Government Minister David Carter and Environment Minister Amy Adams said ECan elections would not be held until 2016, despite a Government promise to hold regional council elections next year.  Instead, a ministerial review of ECan's governance arrangements will be held in 2014.
'Carter said one of the main reasons the commissioners' terms were extended was because the Government did not want to disrupt the progress the commissioners had made.'
This was bad but worse was to follow: It is revealed that not only had the commissioners themselves recommended a mixed-governance model of six to eight elected members plus four to six Government-appointed members as the "most appropriate solution"," but also that the commissioners report said that
'ensuring the quake recovery and the implementation of the Canterbury Water Management Strategy were not jeopardised was "paramount" in their recommendation to reinstate democracy.'
This information was obtained by The Press under the Official Information Act.  Thank God for our journalists!

I leave it to readers imaginations what they take from Carter's own pronouncement.  There is no practical reason what so ever to continue to keep E-Can entirely run solely by appointed commissioners.

Further Note added 9th February 2013:
Former Chair of ECan and long-standing Labour politician, Sir Kerry Burke, has written in detail about the political manipulations which took place in the years before he and other democratically elected councillors were sacked and replaced by government appointees.  For anyone interested in democracy issues it makes alarming reading:

HOW IS THE GOVERNMENT GETTING AWAY WITH THIS?
When this sort of thing happens in other countries we call them dictatorships, and foreign envoys are sent in to attempt to reason with reigning despots.  What happens when this occurs in our own country and where are the foreign envoys?  And perhaps most of all, where are the local protests?  Actually, there have been quite a number of them, but...

The trouble is that the people of Christchurch are tired, and very much occupied with the effort of simply getting from one day to the next.  A quick Internet search yielded plenty of examples, most of them recent:
 
  •  They are tired from the loss of amenities such as supermarkets...
  •   ...of libraries
 
  •  ...of community centres and like facilities:
  •   ...of neighbours:
  •  ...of neighbourhoods:

  •  ...of old familiar landmarks:
  • Residents who have been making the effort to improve community facilities are tired of having their community projects removed from their control, as has happened with the Centennial Pool:
  • A great number of residents are tired out from the stress of the whole terrible ordeal of on-going earthquakes and widespread disruption:
  • Parents and children alike are tired of disrupted schooling due to earthquake-damaged schools, a situation which now looks set to take a deeper and more permanent nosedive due to ill-conceived Government plans to force changes to the schools region-wide
  • And they are tired of being deprived of their democracy.  Finally people have been goaded too far:
You can read more about this 100 day protest campaign on Radio NZ's article:

IN CONCLUSION:
Many of the troubles faced by Christchurch residents have been inevitable, but they have been intensified by ham-fisted handling or the sheer ineptitude of those in positions of power.  The special powers vested in the Minister give him the authority to intervene, to step in and help, which he appears to have conspicuously avoided.

Without wishing to discuss personalities a degree of reference to them is inevitable given the sweeping powers held by the Earthquake Recovery Minister.  A more facilitative approach could have been not only helpful but an inspiration, a drawing forth of a much more inclusive atmosphere.  Imagine Geoffrey Palmer, Sally Buck or Jim Anderton in that role - or Leanne Dalziel, for that matter.  Good luck Leanne, my fingers are crossed!

In my view political leadership in a democracy is about governance, about ensuring that the constructive vision and sound values of the constituency are encouraged, reflected on and able to be brought forth where ever possible; it's not about management, which is the role of government departments and their like.  Unfortunately not many people seem to know the difference, the present National goverment least of all.

Our present government seems hell-bent on running New Zealand as if it were a large commercial corporation in which they, as management, call all the shots.  Whatever our individual opinions about big businesses may be our country is not such an organisation: we do not work for our government nor are we in their employment, so we cannot be expected to fall in with their wishes; rather the boot is, or should be, on the other foot, so I say very clearly:
WE LIVE HERE, COLLECTIVELY OWN THE PUBLIC ASSETS, AND THESE M.P.'S AND THE GOVERNMENT ITSELF ARE OUR SERVANTS AND ARE PAID FOR BY US.
The nonsense about National Party having been voted in on a landslide victory is absurd given the number of potential voters who stayed away from the polls, and in no way constitutes a mandate for them to do as they please.

The residents of Christchurch have had enough and I share their protest.

Related links:

You can find my other articles about the Earthquake aftermath via the link below:
In my next article I take a much needed break from all these troubles, at a Christchurch cafe which serves delicious food to restore the body and soothe the soul...

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