Adam Bennett

Adam is a political reporter for the New Zealand Herald.

EQC performance 'mixed' - Auditor-General report

File photo / Geoff Sloan
File photo / Geoff Sloan

Problems highlighted by the Auditor-General in the way the Earthquake Commission had dealt with homeowners affected by the Canterbury earthquakes have already been identified and dealt with, the Government says.

In a report on the commission's management of the home repair programme, Auditor-General Lyn Provost said the EQC's performance to date had been "mixed".

"It has performed well in managing repair costs and setting the home-repair programme up quickly, but has not performed as well in dealing with homeowners."

Ms Provost highlighted a series of issues, including:

# EQC was late in the programme before repair slots were actively allocated to the homes of vulnerable people;

# Homeowners had experienced inconsistency in information and processes, and long periods without specific information from EQC about their claim, leading to a lack of certainty while waiting for repairs;

# Some homeowners had been dissatisfied, including dissatisfaction with the quality of repairs or the time taken to complete the repairs after work started;

# Some important systems, controls and support functions should have been in place and fully effective sooner, including controls to help manage risks to repair quality.

But Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Minister Gerry Brownlee said all of the problems raised by Ms Provost " have been identified a long time ago and have been part of a discussion and part of EQC's desire to get things sorted out".

Mr Brownlee said some of the failing's identified by the Auditor-General were understandable under the circumstances.

"When you're dealing with a work programme like this that has developed from nothing to be the sort of organisation it's become I think they've done pretty well."

In her report, Ms Provost said about 20 per cent of homeowners who had repairs completed in 2013 were dissatisfied with the work and if that proportion was applied to the entire programme "then the owners of more than 14,000 repaired houses would be dissatisfied or very dissatisfied with the repairs".

Repair costs had been "reasonable" so far, but Ms Provost said there were risks they would escalate.

"Keeping repair costs at a reasonable level depends on EQC managing essential controls and systems, staying ahead of the private insurance and central city repair and rebuild work, and completing the home-repair programme by the December 2014 deadline set by EQC."

Ms Provost also noted project management costs associated with the home repair programme at about 12 per cent so far were "at the higher end of what we consider reasonable in the circumstances".

She made five recommendations to the commission including that it continue to improve its approach to auditing repairs, that it improve communications with homeowners, that it refine key performance indicators for the programme, and that it continue to review and if necessary adjust the configuration of repair and project management services in the programme to deliver the best value and results in the circumstances and treat homeowners fairly and consistently.

Ms Provost also recommended the commission identify and record the lessons, tools, and information from the programme to help in the aftermath of future large scale natural disasters.

Mr Brownlee said he expected all of the Auditor-General's recommendations to be picked up.

"Many of them already have been. I think that's the message that's also in the AG's report."

Labour's Earthquake Commission spokesperson Clayton Cosgrove described the report as scathing.

"The Auditor-General's findings that EQC is in disarray are nothing new to the people of Canterbury. They have been trying to tell Gerry Brownlee this for years but he has stuck his fingers in his ears. Mr Brownlee must listen to the Auditor-General and take action."

The findings of considerable dissatisfaction with repair work and was "simply not good enough".

"Cantabrians wanted to have faith in EQC but they have been let down. Cantabrians didn't need an Auditor-General report to tell them how bad things were at EQC. But Gerry Brownlee does. Maybe now he will accept that, under his watch as minister, EQC is in disarray."

- NZ Herald

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