EQC took months to act on conflict

MARTIN VAN BEYNEN
Last updated 05:00 30/06/2012

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The Earthquake Commission (EQC) has admitted it allowed the daughter of its claims manager to operate a Christchurch rebuild business for five months while she also worked as a commission assessor.

The Press revealed that assessor Nikki Kettle, daughter of claims manager Gail Kettle and on an annual salary of about $114,000, started a building repair company called Re-Built Project Management Ltd with EQC estimator-builder Grant Todd early this year.

The company was incorporated on January 26, with Kettle and Todd having an equal shareholding.

On May 28, the EQC put out a memo warning all staff that direct involvement in firms providing quotes for earthquake-damaged homes, either through the customer- managed repair programme or through the commission, was a conflict of interest and warranted dismissal.

EQC Canterbury boss Bruce Emson initially told The Press that Kettle had "put her hand up" about the fact her company was quoting for a job and that her admission prompted a thorough investigation and then the memo to all staff.

After further Press questions, the EQC said Kettle had disclosed her interest in December last year and February. A report into the conflict was the result of a tipoff about an incident in May when Todd was giving a quote at a St Martins address when an EQC estimator arrived.

After further investigation, the commission yesterday said Kettle provided information about her building company in December and March.

"Regrettably, this was not referred to her manager or adequately followed up with her for some time," it said.

"In May, the issue was brought to EQC senior management's attention due to a specific project being undertaken by Re-Built."

The commission investigated and issued an email to all staff about conflicts of interest. Todd and Kettle were spoken to.

Kettle's declarations had taken the form of a disclosure when she secured her position for this year and an email to human resources in early March, the commission said.

"The process which is normally undertaken is for the conflict of interest to be forwarded to the staff member's manager ... In this case, the process was not followed due to human error."

The EQC failed to say how the "specific project" was brought to its attention or how many jobs Kettle's company quoted for before the issue went to management.

The corrected information means Todd and Kettle were allowed to operate a building company and do their jobs, for nearly six months before the matter came to light.

The commission has not as yet clarified Todd's situation. Initially it said Todd was leaving, but The Press understands he is talking to his lawyers. Kettle has remained with the commission as an assessor.

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- The Press

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