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EXCLUSIVE: EQC Truths interview transcript

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Latest Christchurch News | Thursday April 18 2013 5:35

EXCLUSIVE: EQC Truths interview transcript

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Newstalk ZB's Jo Scott had an exclusive interview with the EQC Truths blogger - read the full transcript of the interview here...

You’ve created a huge amount of attention with this blog, EQC Truths, can you give me the background to it...how it came to be...who you are etc?

Certainly Jo, thank you for having me. The reason I decided to create the blog is that EQC has deliberately and systematically withheld information from claimants and unfortunately even internally many people at EQC are oblivious as to some of things that go on so I decided to create this blog so that this information would get out into the public domain and at some point if anybody wanted to research it they could learn a little bit about the EQC processes and hopefully be able to use it to further along their claim.

So you started the blog in November 2012?

That’s correct.

Why was it that at that particular time that you chose to create the blog?

There were a few things Jo. One is frustration at my sheer inability to change anything internally. One of the lamentable things about EQC is that many of the managers and senior people truly don’t care or they just prefer to stick their head in the sand, so I felt that after exhausting all of the internal channels for change that the best thing to do would be to create a blog and use some of my marketing experience to get the blog out there in front of people in Christchurch.

Ok and you say this because you of course worked for EQC. Can you give us some indication as to how long you worked for the Commission...what sort of things you did?

Certainly, I worked at the commission for about eight months and I’ve done sort of a variety of different things during my stint. I probably won’t get into the specifics of my role but that was roughly the timeframe that I worked for EQC.

And can you tell us when?

Look I think probably if they went through the HR records they might you know nail it down Jo. It would just sort of be to ahh easy for them.

I guess that leads me to what I have to ask you and that is why won’t you say who you are – is it that you’re trying to protect someone?

The primary reason for remaining anonymous is that if I were to divulge my identity, I would compromise several of my sources who remain at EQC. That’s simply just because people know people and they can sorta put two and two together. The other thing is I’m not personally seeking glory from it, if anything this blog has been incredibly time consuming and I suppose, my main concern is that if I decide to go out publicly then it’s going to become increasingly difficult for people on the inside to continue to feed me information because I will definitely be under a lot more scrutiny and I presume that the possibility exists that the government will try to, you know, monitor phone records or text messages or things that might allow EQC to ascertain who the moles are within the organisation.

Do you think though, that you could affect change better though if you openly approached for example the Minister of Earthquake Recovery or somebody in authority and said ‘look this is who I am and these are the issues that need to be dealt with’?

Look I think I am have approached both the Minister of Earthquake Recovery and another senior minister in the government and I’ve addressed some of my concerns with EQC. I obviously didn’t have enough time to sit down and have a detailed chat but at this stage I feel that I’ve done my duty as far as making senior people in the government aware of some of the problems at EQC.

What reaction did you have from them?

Well one ignored it and the second expressed quite a bit of interest and told me to leave my details with someone and I’ve never heard back from him so either the details didn’t get to him or he just sort of chose to ignore it

Can you give me some more information about that which Minister ignored it? Gerry Brownlee or the other Minister you’re referring to?

I suppose in the end they both of them ignored it. But I don’t want to get into the specifics of the conversations I’ve had with MPs you know about the issues at EQC.

Will you tell me who the other minister was that you approached?

Probably not for right now Jo.

Why is that?

I simply think that if I were to reveal the name of the Minister that it would probably make it very easy to out my identity.

And again you don’t want to do that because you’re worried that if you out yourself, your sources who still work for EQC will be compromised?

That’s right. Aas much as I would like to have a public debate and I have even offered to a debate to Ian Simpson merely to show that EQC doesn’t really have any interest in a debate or any kind of a discussion, the unfortunate reality is that if I out myself that my sources at EQC are going to end up being compromised and that sort of destroys the remaining utility that my blog offers to the people of Christchurch.

Would you still debate Ian Simpson openly?

I definitely would if he actually has the temerity to come out in public and have an actual debate, you know, something extensive where we discuss issues such as claims that are systematically placed on hold; issues like the nepotism and even suggestions for how EQC could improve its processes. I would figure that, that in itself would outweigh the detrimental effect of not being able to have sources confide in me. However, I think just given the culture of EQC and given the general opaque nature of the organisation, it’s unlikely that Ian Simpson or anybody else at EQC for that matter would actually accept my offer.

Is it fair to say your employment at EQC was not a happy time?

Look I wouldn’t say it was entirely unhappy. In terms of being able to do things for people in some instances I was able help individual people so in that sense I wouldn’t say it was totally unhappy, but in terms of just coming home at the end of the day and realising what an utter debacle the organisation is and just dealing with inept people, idiots, people I would never hire to run a hotdog stand being in charge of entire departments and having absolutely no clue what they’re doing I mean those things, after a while, you know really get to a person so in that sense I would probably say that on balance it was a fairly unhappy stint.

Were you sacked?

No I wasn’t.

So what lead you to leave the commission, just that dissatisfaction?

Well there was a combination of a dissatisfaction and other opportunities that presented themselves in my professional life. I’m someone that, unlike certain senior people at EQC, actually has marketable skills and things that businesses and consumers are willing to pay for. So I eventually sort of found an opportunity that intrigued me and I decided to leave.

Ok. So this isn’t about sour grapes? This isn’t a situation where you were sacked and then set up the blog to try and discredit the entire organisation?

Not at all. Not at all Jo. I know that there’s always a tendency to attack the messenger or a scribe. Personal motives are a vendetta but the reality of the matter is that I am not dependent on EQC for a living and I wasn’t fired or sacked and that wasn’t the reason behind my departure.

Let’s move on. Let’s talk about the leak, the spreadsheet that you were sent. When were you sent the spreadsheet? Who sent it to you?

I received the spreadsheet probably a couple of weeks ago. As far as who sent it to me...I won’t sort of divulge the individual but it was basically someone who was at EQC and was quite disgruntled with the process and they just decided to make it available to me.

Are they still at EQC now?

As far as I know, they are outside of the country but I can’t sort of vouch 100% for where they might be.

Surely it was illegal for them to take that information from EQC when they left?

I suppose strictly speaking there’s the potential for illegality. I can’t, sort of, without knowing the full circumstances I can’t really opine and say yes it was illegal or legal or if it was a violation of, you know, the internal EQC rules.

It was unethical anyway, wasn’t it?

Look I think that in some ways you can say it was unethical for somebody to release that information. However, I suppose that that’s information that claimants should have been provided at a much earlier stage of the claims settlement process and EQC has chosen not to reveal that information because it’s going to show that a lot of the assessments were done improperly. I mean I have run into many instances where EQC has gone out and said that a property maybe has $20,000 worth of cosmetic damage and then the private insurers or an independent assessor goes out and has declared it a rebuild. And similarly I have seen some properties where EQC has declared a massive amount of damage and it just turns out the assessor sort of overinflated the damage because in the early days EQC sort of pressured its assessors to say as many claims as possible were over the cap to get them over the to the private insurers and make it look as if the claims settlement process was going smoothly so across the scale there are a lot of assessments that are simply you know absolutely abysmal.

I want to concentrate on this leak so you were sent the spreadsheet it has the details of 67,000 claims is that right?

That’s right approximately 67,000.

And that’s peoples’ addresses, the claim numbers what else is there?

It includes things like the cost that EQC has assigned to the claim and it also includes things like if it’s been assigned to a particular hub or whether it’s on hold at a hub awaiting to get assigned to somebody so it’s certainly not a complete representation of everything that’s happening in the claimant’s file but it is sort of a piece of the puzzle that can help claimants ascertain where things stand with their claim or what value EQC has assigned to their claim.

And you’ve said yourself that this isn’t actually going to solve anybody’s problems?

No it’s not. I mean the only sort of utility to it is if you’ve been cash settled you can obviously see if EQC had sort of underpaid you. It is also useful from the standpoint of determining if your assessment was faulty but simply having this information isn’t going to magically fix everybody’s house. That’s simply not true. The information has its limits of utility.

Why did you release it?

My intention was to release it myself however because of the High Court injunction it was ultimately the original leaker who leaked the information and I just simply showed everybody where it was. The rationale behind it was that the process at the High Court was completely flawed. I offered EQC not to release the information provided that they would give me enough time to respond to the injunction and they just summarily ignored me so I decided that if that was EQC’s approach then I was more than happy to, if you will, facilitate the ability of the original leaker to get the information out in the public domain.

So you helped leak it?

I didn’t help leak it. I simply received an email from the original leaker stating where it was and I just simply told everybody where the information was available. I wasn’t sort of involved in the actual leak itself.

We have spoken to lawyers though who say that by posting the link on your blog that you have directed people to where they can get confidential information and in doing so have probably breached the injunction yourself.

I think the point is debatable Jo and I say that with all due respect. In terms of you know what we did originally...we did want to set up a process where claimants could email me directly and verify their identity and we would just release the information that was relevant to them. With the source overseas, I sort of implored him...I said look if you’re going to release the information, make a point to remove everybody’s addresses so it’s just a question of claim number and the other information. He assured me that he was going to do that but he’s probably a less measured person than I was and either he didn’t have the, I guess, the IT where withal or he was simply too lazy or too vindictive and decided just to leak the whole thing and unfortunately I don’t have any control over the actions of the other person.

No but you could have, on that basis decided not to post the link...did you consider that?

I did consider it. However I told everybody that the information would be available at a certain time and I’d issued EQC with an ultimatum and they decided not to follow through and they had no interest in negotiating so I felt that if I didn’t provide the information that I would, sort of, go back on my word and that was something that morally speaking I was unwilling to do.

That is go back on your word to the people who’d contacted you asking for the information?

That’s correct I mean I was sort of willing to sit down with EQC and negotiate an end to this stalemate if you will, but ultimately I have received emails from hundreds and hundreds of desperate people and I said to them look I can’t release your information but if EQC doesn’t sit down with us and doesn’t actually come up with a process for getting the information out to claimants then I am going to release the information and I guess I can’t sorta just go back on my word because it would be unfair to the claimants.

Some would say that is you trying to threaten and blackmail EQC.

I suppose it’s a question of semantics, Jo. Someone could describe it as threatening or blackmailing but the reality is there are tens of thousands of claimants in Christchurch who would like to know what’s happening to their claims and EQC just sort of ignores that and tells people to lodge a request for the Official Information Act but when you do that it just sort of takes months and months on end just to get information. So because EQC’s process is so utterly abysmal the only real option I had was to say look here’s this information, somebody else has posted it overseas so this is where you can find it and then it’s up to you to decide what to do with it. Now obviously the people who have accessed it, and presumably lots of people have – posted it on Facebook or emailed it – I guess those people are sort of in breach of the court order as well. However, you know there’s sort of very little that EQC can do once the information is out in the public domain it’s no longer confidential and if anything the claim that the information is commercially sensitive is really ludicrous because so much of that information is inaccurate anyway or Fletchers are going to come out and do another assessment that it’s really not nearly as valuable as EQC sort of indicated it to be.

How many people have accessed it? How many people have downloaded that file? Do you have any idea?

I don’t have an idea because I don’t actually control the web page overseas. However, I can say that within 24 hours about 13,000 people had gone onto my website – and these are sort of individual unique visitors – and had sort of accessed the link or linked to the other page. I don’t know how many actually downloaded it or how many actually accessed the information but that would maybe give you an idea of the, I guess, the scale of the interest in the information.

The interest is undeniably huge?

Absolutely. I think many people in Christchurch, even if this information doesn’t magically resolve their claims, it at least gives them one piece of the puzzle and lets them have some information about their claim and hopefully they can use it to negotiate sort of a better settlement. Or at least find out if things are in the right place.

Are you expecting any repercussions to what you’ve done in terms of defying the High Court order?

I don’t expect any repercussions because there are a lot of sort of legal problems surrounding how EQC originally obtained the order. For instance there are restrictions on, sort of, prior restraint. I asked the High Court, I implored the High Court, I said look I’m happy not to release the information but give me a week to prepare a case and sort of physically be able to attend the hearing. And the High Court simply ignored those requests and if the court is going to behave with, I guess such, wanton disregard for my rights then I simply decided to to enable the original source to post his information or I guess not really post it but just allowed the original source to get a link to it through my blog.

Have you been contacted by the police, by EQC, by the High Court personally?

Not at all. The only contact I have had with EQC has been through its lawyer and it’s basically just consists of CC’ing information it submits to the courts so it actually hasn’t contacted me directly. Whenever I’ve written back to the lawyer, my emails are sort of never returned so that’s been sort of the extent of my contact with EQC and the police.

Does EQC know who you are?

I very much doubt it. I know that given EQC’s incompetence it only makes sense that its investigation into the leak is botched as well. And at the moment I think my sources inside EQC tell me they believe it could be any of sort of half a dozen different people. Some of the people they believe are the blogger...I mean....it’s just unfathomable that they would come up with such conclusions but the short answer is, is that I very much doubt that they know who I am.

I know Bryan Staples has been asked repeatedly whether or not he is the blogger. Are you Bryan Staples?

No. No I’m not Bryan Staples.

Are you working closely with him?

Look not particularly. I did contact Bryan Staples and we came up with an arrangement to use some of his resources to verify people’s identity. But aside from that I really haven’t had any contactwith Bryan Staples and I don’t really know sort of what’s going on with him.

And does he know who you are?

No he doesn’t know who I am either. Sorry.. just to clarify. He contacts me through the hushmail or hotmail account just like everybody else does.

And everbody else includes the High Court, the police, EQC’s lawyers...that’s how everybody including me in fact have managed to touch base with you?

That’s correct and if anything I think the police are too busy sort of searching for their own claims in the spreadsheet to actually care.

You say you’ve got ‘more dirt’on EQC?

That’s correct there’s quite a bit of more dirt that I intend to release.

And you’re going to do that?

I am. None of the information that I am going to release is sort of subject to the original injunction and my plan is to release this information once I can get it into a sort of easily digestible format on the blog.

What information is it?

There are a variety of different things but the general implication of the information is that it shows that there’s a lot of nepotism at EQC, there’s a lot of incompetence and that a lot of the processes are dysfunctional. So it’s merely confirming what everybody in Christchurch suspects. It’s just that the average person in Chch doesn’t work for EQC so they can’t actually confirm their suspicions with proof and I’m simply sort of furnishing the proof that’s confirming their suspicions.

And the ‘proof’ ... does it come in the form of documents that you’ve obtained from people who work for EQC? What is it exactly?

I won’t sort of get into the sort of specifics of the information but once it’s sort of out there it will be sort of readily available on the internet.

You’re obviously not going to tell us what it is you’re going to release but when can we expect to see updates on the blog?

Our hope is to have this information within the next week –that’s sort of our aim at this stage. I’m still sort of going through it just to find out you know what sort of the best form of presenting the information is. However, I can say that it’s not confidential information about claimants or anything like that. It’s more about EQC’s processes and some of the problems that exist at the organisation. My aim is simply to get as much information out to the public domain. Hopefully get people in power to reign in EQC and reform the organisation and hopefully ultimately some good will come out of it both for the customers that are currently in Christchurch suffering because of EQC and for the future benefit of the organisation.

If Gerry Brownlee or any other government said they were willing to meet with you and talk about your concerns. Which is what you’ve wanted in the past, would you do that? Would you out yourself to them?

Absolutely I would out myself to them if they’re serious about having a productive discussion about the problems at EQC and I would invite Gerry Brownlee or the Prime Minister to sit down and go through some of these things and then hopefully pass them onto the senior people at EQC and make some necessary changes in terms of replacing people or changing some of the dysfunctional processes.

But in the meantime, until that happens or until Ian Simpson agrees to debate you in the media – you think that to affect change you are best to remain anonymous and continue leaking on the blog?

That’s correct.

And that’s what you’ll continue to do?

Correct I will continue to provide the information that EQC has deliberately and systematically withheld from claimants.

And you’re not worried about repercussions?

Look on a practical level I’m not worried about repercussions. I think if you do what’s morally right things have a way of working themselves out. And in this sense I’m not stealing from anybody, I’m not sort of not doing anything unhelpful. I’m actually doing something that has really helped a lot of people in Christchurch. And I think that during the coming days and weeks as people sort of parsh(?) through the spreadsheet they’re going to find information about their house that’s completely at odds with reality and I expect there will be a backlash at EQC as a result of that.

Of course not everybody is happy that their details were leaked by your colleague or your former colleague overseas...do you apologise to them?

Look definitely. I do apologise to them in the sense that I don’t have any control over what the original leaker has done. I really very much implored him and even with Bryan Staples I wanted to create a process that was transparent and guaranteed everyone’s privacy. But I do feel disappointed that the original leaker didn’t follow my instructions and I actually didn’t even access the spreadsheet. I just sort of took him at his word that he’d done what he said he’d done because I didn’t want to go through and download the information again or even find out if that was the actual information that he’d provided me originally.

That was naive of you, wasn’t it?

I suspect it was sort of naive of me but I simply decided to pass on the information and then let people do with it what they wanted.

Are you overwhelmed by the response you’ve had?

Largely I have had a very positive response. I would say that for every sort of email or comment that’s sort of been critical where people are concerned about their privacy being exposed, there have been at least sort of 20 comments in the opposite direction where people are quite relieved that the information is out there. And I think most people recognise the limitations of it and they recognise that not every claim is on there. I believe that the original spreadsheet sent to Bryan Staples seemed to have every claim and was a little bit broader than the one I actually had. But I think people are relieved that somebody had the guts and the temerity to stand up to EQC and draw a line in the sand and say look no more you guys have done enough to people in Christchurch and you’ve been focused on protecting the organisation and it’s always been about perception over reality and I think in that sense most people are very pleased.

And that will spur you on?

Yes, look it definitely will. The only reason I do it, is because it is helpful to people and as soon as I run out of information or people at EQC stop telling me things then I will probably just go away because I have other things to do. And maybe there’s a small chance that EQC will realise the error of its ways or people in the government will you know launch an inquiry and clean up EQC and if, if the information I’ve provided has improved the process then I feel that I can sort of rest assured that it’s been a good outcome.

I think that’s a good place to leave it. EQC Truths, thank you for your time.

Thank you, Jo.

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