EQC must do better in future

Many South Islanders have been through a great deal in recent years. The Canterbury earthquakes and then the Kaikoura quake have been harsh reminders of the vicissitudes of life in our shaky islands.

The severe and ongoing effects of those events on hundreds of thousands of lives means another major natural disaster hardly bears thinking about. But it is a fact of life it will happen. When it does, New Zealanders need to feel confident the authorities and recovery agencies that have had years to prepare for such an eventuality are able to help quickly, efficiently and thoroughly.

Unfortunately that has not been the experience of most Canterbury residents when it came to dealing with the Earthquake Commission (EQC) in the months, and now the years, following the first of the damaging earthquakes in September 2010.

Now, as promised by her when in Opposition, Greater Christchurch Regeneration Minister and Minister Responsible for EQC, Megan Woods, has made some much-needed changes to the commission.

EQC's almost invisible chairman Sir Maarten Wevers has gone, issuing a long overdue apology for the agency's botch-ups as he closed the door behind him. Dr Woods has announced she is establishing a stand-alone unit of 200 staff to supervise and sign off the outstanding claims, and also has plans for a special ministerial adviser to the commission.

It beggars belief that more than seven years on from the most damaging event - Christchurch's deadly February 22 magnitude-6.3 quake - there are still residents waiting for their claims to be completed. It is a disgraceful state of affairs, particularly when EQC was established to provide a rapid, comprehensive recovery from disaster. These quakes were its first really big test - and it failed. There are still more than 2600 claims outstanding out of more than 470,000.

Dr Woods' changes are akin to a chink in the curtains finally letting light into a dark room. And her plans are not just good news for Cantabrians - they should be welcomed by all who might one day benefit from a more customer-focused, streamlined EQC.

Christchurch has just marked the seventh anniversary of the quake which killed 185 people and changed forever the face of the South Island's largest city. The rebuild continues in stuttering style, with ongoing delays to some of its key anchor projects.

As a Christchurch resident, Dr Woods has been intimately acquainted with the earthquakes and their effects on those in the city. A long-time friend and colleague of the late Jim Anderton, who was her mentor, it is no wonder she is in tune with, and empathetic towards, affected residents.

Former earthquake recovery minister Gerry Brownlee also lives in Christchurch but showed several times he was lacking in empathy - him saying he was ''sick and tired'' of residents of the worst-affected land ''carping and moaning'' about their plight in a survey remains probably the nadir of his time in the role.

For many in Canterbury, the past seven years have gone like this - first came the earthquakes, then came EQC, now comes the fallout from years of shonky repairs in terms of being able to sell, and insure, still-damaged homes.

As Christchurch City councillor Glenn Livingstone tweeted, EQC's ''jack- and pack-repair methodology'' sometimes involved the use of melamine, custom wood, ''bits of coffee-table leg and a jandal'' to put right the foundations of people's homes.

It has been a saga and a-half. As well as cowboy repairs, some appalling treatment of residents and the glacial pace of sorting claims, there have been the alarming sideshows of leaks of private information and revelations of the EQC gravy train, involving nepotism and inflated salaries.

It is now crucial that EQC gets things right in the future.

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