A humiliated Gerry Brownlee has apologised to Labour MPs he sledged over their workrate on behalf of earthquake victims and says he feels let down by EQC.
The Earthquake Recovery Minister lashed out at Labour after they raised the plight of 85-year-old Dot Boyd, who is still waiting for repairs to her Aranui Home three years on from the Christchurch earthquakes.
Brownlee confirmed yesterday that he had discovered that Boyd may be the tip of the iceberg after EQC identified a further 85 cases where vulnerable elderly people had been left in limbo while waiting on a decision.
He had also just learnt that Boyd's plight was raised eight months ago with EQC by Labour but no action was taken.
In Parliament on Tuesday, Brownlee labelled Labour MPs "despicable" for organising a photo-op to publicise Boyd's case rather than raise their concerns with EQC. He also accused Labour's Christchurch MPs of lodging requests with EQC on just five occasions on behalf of their constituents.
But he was forced into a humiliating backdown yesterday after learning that he had understated the number of requests from Labour MPs by hundreds.
Brownlee said he was "deeply embarrassed" by his speech in the House attacking Labour and felt "totally let down".
"I unreservedly apologise to those MPs; they clearly have made contact."
Brownlee said he had queried the figures given to him at the time by EQC because it did not seem right that just five requests had been lodged. "I said to them at the time are you sure about this, five? And they said ‘yes, that's all that's in our system'."
In relation to Boyd's case, he confirmed late yesterday that her case was raised by former MP Lianne Dalziel in June 2013.
Brownlee intervened last week to have Boyd's situation resolved after her plight was made public.
"So the question for me is, frankly, how the hell do they ignore something for eight months?
"That is completely unacceptable. Because it would have stated, and they would have known, that this was a woman [in her 80s], in a very badly damaged house."
After being told yesterday by EQC that there were 85 "vulnerable cases" like Boyd still waiting in the system, he was now concerned that even that figure might be too "light".
"I've told them to go and check again.
"We're going to have a very robust conversation."
He felt "totally let down" and had conveyed that to EQC chairman Sir Maarten Wevers in a phone message, Brownlee said.
At a parliamentary select committee meeting yesterday, EQC chief executive Ian Simpson confirmed that there had been five "formal" requests for information, but information tabled in Parliament shows more than 200 approaches were made by Labour MPs.
EQC VOWS TO IMPROVE SERVICE
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 last year by the Privacy Commissioner and the Ombudsman. It has since brought forward deadlines and attempted to lift its game.
EQC chairman Sir Maarten Wevers and chief executive Ian Simpson faced Parliament's finance and expenditure committee yesterday 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.
"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 that 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.
Wevers said the "unprecedented" demand for information had been overwhelming. Since then an additional 26 staff had been employed.
- The Press
Would you consider using your retirement savings to buy a home?Related story: Retirement savings used for first home