Ombudsman report on EQC out today

GLENN CONWAY
Last updated 05:00 19/12/2013

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The ombudsman will today release a report on EQC's slow handling of Cantabrians' requests for information about their earthquake-damaged homes as MPs question stonewalling by government departments.

Dame Beverley Wakem and the Human Rights Commission will release a joint report on how EQC has handled Official Information Act (OIA) requests.

EQC has been swamped with requests from Cantabrians seeking more information on their insurance claims. Since September 2010, EQC has received more than 5000 OIA requests, compared with just 50 for the 23 years before.

Wakem did not want to comment before the report's release today.

Last week, Labour's Clayton Cosgrove criticised EQC for its tardy response to an information request, prompting Earthquake Recovery Minister Gerry Brownlee to reject the claims as "utter political rubbish".

Greens list MP Eugenie Sage this week slated the Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority (Cera) for delays in releasing public information.

However, Wakem has defended Cera, saying she did not have major concerns about its processes.

Wakem met with Cera chief executive Roger Sutton in October to discuss its handling of OIA requests, but this week said "by and large, they have got it right".

Sage said Cera took 167 days to provide public submissions to the city's transport plan, but Sutton said her "math paints a slightly inaccurate picture".

She said there was no acceptable reason why they should not have been released 20 working days after the original OIA request was lodged in mid-February.

After a series of emails, and the intervention of the Ombudsman's Office, Cera published the submissions in late July.

Sage said decisions were being made by "faceless bureaucrats" and no public hearings for submitters showed there was an urgent need for Cera to go.

"That's why we should be phasing Cera out. It's so undemocratic," she said.

Sutton said an investigation into Sage's complaint was discontinued on September 30 and his team was right to refuse releasing the documents "as they had yet to be collated and analysed for the minister, who would potentially use them to amend the An Accessible City draft".

An amended version was sent to Brownlee on May 22 but he wanted more work done. He approved its release on July 17, which coincided with a four-working-day shutdown of Cera's websites due to a security issue.

The submissions were released at the "next possible point in time after that, which was 29 July 2013", Sutton said.

"As well as highlighting a 167-day timeframe that was not possible for Cera to have met, this miscalculation also appears to count every weekend and public holiday. All OIA requests adhere to the ‘working day' rule."

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Brownlee said comments from Sage and Cosgrove were "the sort of thing you get from frustrated Opposition parties".

Both organisations were doing their best to meet OIA rules.

"There is a big body of people saying ‘fix my house' and then a whole lot of people asking us to set that aside and ‘give me information'," he said.

"There are a lot of things we can improve. I openly accept that."

- The Press

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