EQC asks for understanding

KATIE KENNY
Last updated 16:50 05/03/2014

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The Earthquake Commission has promised better services, but has asked for understanding, saying the Christchurch earthquakes were a disaster far in excess of conceivable magnitude.

The commission was castigated for poor performance late last year by the Privacy Commissioner and the Ombudsman. It has since brought forward deadlines and attempted to up its game.

EQC chairman Sir Maarten Wevers and chief executive Ian Simpson fronted a parliamentary select committee today to answer questions about the commission's progress and present its financial review.

Wevers said EQC's home-repair programme was "unprecedented" anywhere in the world, and the scale of the disaster inevitably involved "pressures and strains".

"Based on geotechnical estimations, the worst-case scenario EQC planned for was an earthquake in Wellington which would result in about 150,000 claims."

Almost 470,000 claims had been received as a result of the Canterbury earthquakes.

Wevers told the committee EQC was on track to respond to a remaining backlog of 700 overdue official information requests by April. All new requests would be answered within the legal 20-day time frame.

The Privacy Commissioner and the Ombudsman found EQC had breached the Official Information Act and the Privacy Act in that it had not provided timely information about earthquake damage.

Wevers said the "unprecedented" demand for information had overwhelmed the committee's 22 staff. Since then an additional 26 staff had been employed and he was confident the April deadline was realistic.

Labour's spokeswoman for Canterbury earthquake recovery, Ruth Dyson, questioned the culture of EQC which left people so desperate for transparency that they had had to make official requests to get information.

Surveys had identified a need for EQC to improve customer service, mainly through communication.

Wevers admitted the home-repair programme could have been handled better, and promised positive changes were under way.

"There are an enormous number of learnings to take from the [Christchurch earthquake] and we have to plan for the new EQC going forward," he said.

Such lessons had already been implemented when dealing with the recent Cook Strait quakes, he said.

As of September last year the new target for claims completion is the end of this year. The original deadline was the end of 2015.

"Hand on heart, we will exert every effort to have all homes finished by the end of the year," Wevers said.

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