Adam Bennett

Adam is a political reporter for the New Zealand Herald.

Quake boss told to stay, fix mess

Earthquake Commission boss Ian Simpson has offered to resign over the commission's massive privacy breach but has been told to stay on and fix up the mess, Earthquake Recovery Minister Gerry Brownlee says.

Mr Simpson along with EQC chairman Michael Wintringham met with Mr Brownlee this morning to discuss the accidental emailing of a spreadsheet containing details of 83,000 Canterbury quake claimants.

The file was emailed to insurance advocate Bryan Staples who said the document contained detailed information on the expected number of settlements and the estimated cost of the claims.

It is understood the document contained details of every claim of up to $100,000 in value. Details of claims above that level, including those of Mr Brownlee whose home was written off, were not included.

Following this morning's meeting Mr Brownlee told reporters Mr Simpson had offered his resignation.

"He understood it had caused embarrassment to the Government and said that if he was casualty of that, he certainly understood that.

"I said look we've got a problem that we've got to get over but we can't let the progress that's been made in any way stumble over this unfortunate (event)."

Mr Simpson had made the same offer to the EQC board which is his direct employer "and the board also said they wanted him to get on top of the problem".

Asked whether he still had confidence in Mr Simpson, Mr Brownlee said: "Yes I do. I think he's done a very good job over long period of time. This is a most unfortunate incident".

Mr Brownlee said EQC had gone from having 23 staff to 1200 over a short period and was " dealing with one of the world's largest insurance events ever and there are numerous complications in this".

"What I'm really interested in is making sure privacy is protected but also that this doesn't become a process that slows down the work they have to do to move claims forward."

Following the meeting, Mr Simpson said he "raised the issue of me staying in the role and he (Mr Brownlee) suggested I need to focus on resolving this issue and the repairs in Canterbury".

It was "a constructive discussion on what steps were taken to make sure this doesn't happen again".

Immediate steps would include limiting use of attachments to emails and an independent review.

Mr Staples had assured EQC that while about five people had seen the file "the copy he received has been destroyed and no other copies were taken so we're working on that basis".

He said the spreadsheet included two figures for each claim - EQC's original estimate of the cost of repairing damage and the bid received from a contractor.

Mr Brownlee said the information was commercially sensitive as it could enable contractors to pitch their bids based on EQC's estimate.

Mr Simpson said he was told by Mr Brownlee to minimise the risk of a privacy breach occurring again.

He said small privacy breaches had occurred at EQC, but nothing on a large scale had occurred in the past.

"When we thought there were 9700 people involved we were going to call everybody; now that it's a much larger number we'll look at different avenues to let people know what's going on."

This could include placing paid advertisements in the newspaper.

EQC would now work with other government agencies to ensure it is following best practices.

Prime Minister John Key said the incident was "a simple error" rather than a breach of privacy rules.

"I'm all for accountability I'm just saying we also live in the real world where good people make mistakes."

"I wouldn't just sack someone because they sent an email to the wrong address."

"The question is, is this an issue where people have broken the privacy rule or is this a situation where people have failed to administer the basic sending of an email properly, and I think it's the latter rather than the former."

Green Party Christchurch spokeswoman Eugenie Sage said the breach was "a slap in the face to those Cantabrians who are calling out for information on their claims".

"Given what Cantabrians have gone through, they deserve to have the information that they need, and that we now know the EQC has, in order to make decisions about their lives," Ms Sage said in a statement.

The leaked spreadsheet included details that claimants had been asking for.

"EQC can no longer say that it is unable to provide that information to claimants."

Ms Sage said Mr Brownlee's attacks on Mr Stables were "a mischievous effort to divert attention from the real issue".

"When the earthquakes happened the Government said it would stand by Cantabrians in their recovery. The reality is that Ministers are not listening to what people need."

- APNZ

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