Our business as usual relationship with Central Government did not meet the needs of a disaster recovery situation. This relationship was critical to our success, but it took time for them to become confident that we could manage the magnitude of the task ahead. A stronger pre-existing support network might have allowed us to move forward more quickly, but we eventually signed a Crown Funding Agreement (CFA) in September 2014. The CFA confirmed financial support for three major capital works projects from six proposed, and put in place a set of monitoring, reporting and decision-making protocols.
Among these was a Governance Oversight Group which sat between the University Council and the Tertiary Education Commission to monitor compliance with the CFA. Five members were appointed by Government, four were from the University Council, and the Group reported to the Minister of Education. It quickly became an important communication channel to Central Government, providing support at project pinch points. For example, ongoing Government funding tranches were released at milestone delivery, but the reality of complex building work in a post-disaster environment is that milestones sometimes change. The Oversight Group provided a direct route to explain these changes to Government, helping us reach mutually acceptable solutions in a timely fashion to keep the projects moving.
We also found that Government expectations around the tender and engagement process did not always match the reality of the stretched local market. Again, the Oversight Group was a conduit between the needs of project delivery and the expectations of governmental process, facilitating workable options for this exceptional situation.
Under the CFA, the first funding tranche was paid in advance. Having this cash on hand put us in a strong position to negotiate with insurers. It meant we could take the necessary time to reach a comprehensive settlement rather than being pushed to accept quickly in order to fund recovery works.
What lessons did we learn about the relationship with Central Government in a disaster recovery situation? First, be prepared. If you have a strong relationship under normal operating conditions, you will be well placed to move forward when extreme events occur. And second, don’t be afraid of direct Government involvement in your project. For us, this brought a closer alliance and pragmatic project solutions. It also strengthened our negotiating position in the wider recovery environment and helped us tighten our reporting and decision-making processes.