The Earthquake Commission has been the target of sustained criticism over its handling of Canterbury and Christchurch earthquake claims sincee 0 September 2010. After each significant quake event (04 September 2010; 22 February 2011; 13 June 2011 and 23 December 2011), the E.Q.C. would open a 90 day window for claiming insurance on fresh damage cause the event/s of that particular day. After At the start of 2012 there were 100,000 claims for damage still to be settled, though this should not be a surprise as strong aftershocks on 23 December 2012 opened up another set of claims.
The criticism against E.Q.C., despite attempts to address it, has unfortunately been largely justified. From the outset in 2010 it has struggled with the huge number of claims laid. The E.Q.C. was slow to admit that it was struggling until several weeks after the 2010 earthquake, when it said it had inadequate staffing levels, was inundated in paper work and could not cope with the number of callers ringing its hotlines each day for assistance. After the 22 February 2011 earthquake, despite the responsibility for many decisions having been taken of it by the now defunct Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority, the E.Q.C. was completely overwhelmed even with additional staff flown in from Wellington each week.
It is not just the lack of internal preparedness for responding to a major disaster that caught the E.Q.C. off guard. The actions and attitude of its staff have been pulled into the media spotlight numerous times because of poor judgement. Yes, they might be in a stressful job. Yes they are only humans who also make mistakes just like the rest of the human race. A failure for example after 5 1/2 years to understand that the elderly claimants need to be settled quickly so that they can get on with living the rest of their lives in peace. A more common problem is that ordering another report into something that is already known is just keeping a desk worker busy somewhere.
But in 2016, to hear after 5 1/2 years that the Earthquake Commission still does not have people who are properly qualified to carry out assessments and that it is not a priority is frankly criminal. To hear that there are people who are suffering from botched repairs that have been done two or three times because of this criminal negligence on E.Q.C.’s part, is not forgivable. The Earthquake Commission has had ample time to fix the problem. The Minister for Earthquake Recovery has had ample time to make E.Q.C. fix the problem. As a matter of priority the existing claims need to be dealt with fastest – before Christmas at the latest.
After that, the E.Q.C. needs a managerial clean out, a systems overhaul and some proper standards implemented. Anything less is deserving of the Chief Executive’s head.