EQC staff connected to firms doing rebuild

MARTIN VAN BEYNEN AND MARC GREENHILL
Last updated 05:00 13/06/2012

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The Earthquake Commission (EQC) has threatened to sack staff with private business interests in the Christchurch rebuild in a move to protect its reputation.

The warning, in a May 28 staff memo obtained by The Press, was prompted by the discovery of "a number of staff" with interests in businesses involved in the rebuild.

In one example investigated by The Press, a company owned by assessor Nikki Kettle and estimator Grant Todd quoted for the repair of a St Martins house this year.

Kettle, the daughter of claims manager Gail Kettle, was one of three EQC staff identified last year by The Press - the others were Zac Stiven, the 19-year-old son of EQC Canterbury events manager Reid Stiven, and Matt Searle, the son of senior manager Barry Searle – whose employment prompted allegations of nepotism and conflicts of interest.

Kettle formed a company called Re-Built Project Management in January with Todd.

The Press understands Todd knew the owner of the St Martins house through sporting connections and then helped the owner to opt out of the EQC process.

EQC emailed its staff on May 28 to remind them of their obligations, saying: "Depending on the level of involvement you have this has the potential to compromise EQC's reputation with regard to impartiality and trustworthiness.

"For example if you have a building company providing quotes for earthquake damaged homes either through the customer managed repair programme or through the EQR [earthquake recovery] process, this presents a direct conflict of interest.

"EQC will not allow any staff contractors or employees to engage directly in such business. Should employees engage in this it will be considered a breach of our standards of integrity and conduct and further action will be taken which may include disciplinary or dismissal action."

EQC staff are required to declare interests in other businesses in a disclosure form that was first issued this year.

The commission inspects quake-damaged properties and funds repairs through EQR or the opt-out process.

EQC customer services general manager Bruce Emson said Kettle had herself flagged the issue of a possible conflict after her company had quoted for the work.

She and Todd had been told they could not continue to work for EQC and also run a building company.

One of the pair had decided to leave EQC but not as a result of any disciplinary action. None was taken, Emson said.

"They flagged the issue and we had not made it clear it was not acceptable. The gap was with management. I should have made it much clearer at the time."

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Staff had anonymously complained about the alleged conflict of interest, but Kettle had already "put her hand up", he said.

- The Press

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