New Zealand, it is said, is one of the least corrupt places in the world. Why, even our bribes to Saudi Arabian businessmen can hardly be called anything but "using a number 8 wire mentality to navigate the complexity of the business world".

But if you look hard enough, a kind of not strictly illegal, but let's say, fudging, of due process appears.

Christchurch is a classic example of this most Kiwi style of "funny business".

At present, the Minister for Earthquake Recovery, Gerry Brownlee, is considering who will run the rebuild of the city from 2016 onwards, when the Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority (CERA) will end its expensive, opaque, and generally maligned leadership to have its powers distributed to other agencies.


Gerry Brownlee's own advisory board recommended how this transition was to take place, coming up with what residents appeared to agree was a plan that would finally wrest control of decision-making from him and devolve it locally, putting the council at the helm (with, obviously, the support of central Government).

Like Tim Groser ignoring his best scientists over the issue of carbon emissions, Brownlee appeared to ditch large parts of his advisory board's advice so he would retain final veto over major projects and council plans in the city. His own draft in response waters down the local role in the rebuild, ensures the Government's paw prints are all over a new body looking to snap up prime central city land for redevelopment, and generally provokes more annoyance from locals.

He gave a month for feedback - which ended at the end of July - without public forums for debate and discussion.

It's a master class in paternalism, yet hardly without precedent in Canterbury.
After the quakes, the Government decided behind closed doors to restore the horizontal infrastructure of the city to the state it was before the quake - rather than the better, future-proofed versions city folk had been promised.

This year there's been a closed-shop granting of Fletcher Residential the right to develop prime commercial and residential land - about 20 per cent of the central city - by compulsorily acquiring much of the land for the building of expensive apartments.

Let's also not forget the Christchurch Convention Centre, which the Government seems hell-bent on building at a cost of $400 million to the taxpayer, despite hardly any locals being behind it (other than Christchurch Canterbury Tourism and the Chamber of Commerce - and Minister Nicky Wagner).

All this seems excessively unfair when, through a combination of dairying and rebuilding itself, Canterbury has helped prop up the New Zealand economy for the past five years.

But while they're happy to talk up the gains, there's been a systematic disempowering of those who live there.


They can't vote for their regional council, have little say over the Government-led blueprint, no say in about a billion dollars-worth of central city projects, almost no engagement with a $100 million public park along the Avon, no say over the $500 million convention centre, suffer hundreds of heritage buildings being demolished with no public notifications, and the use of emergency powers long after the emergency that prompted them ended.

Most galling of all, is that it was the Government's own science adviser, Sir Peter Gluckman, who spelled out how to protect people's mental and economic health following the earthquakes - and his advice has largely been ignored.

He wrote of a traumatised population where "anger and frustration are inevitable ..." The key would be "the promotion of local empowerment and engagement by working ... in a collaborative way with the affected population in co-ordinating and co-leading the response effort.

"If the population do not sense this is happening, then the phase may well be longer and the symptoms of anger and frustration more intense."
Without new legislation to ensure less Government overwrite, it seems unlikely anger and frustration in Christchurch will abate anytime soon.

• This column has been amended to remove an incorrect reference to Amy Adams being Environment Minister in 2010 and an incorrect claim about her personal benefit from overseeing the sacking of elected Canterbury Regional Council members. The Herald regrets and apologises for the errors.