A Fairy Tale of Government

Peter Cresswell's picture
Submitted by Peter Cresswell on Fri, 2005-12-02 22:52

NZ HERALD: "A multimillion-dollar claim against the former Building Industry Authority (BIA) over an Auckland apartment complex with leaky building syndrome [picture right] has been struck out by the Court of Appeal...

"The Crown, which was being sued on behalf of the BIA - now merged into the Building and Housing Department - asked the Court of Appeal to strike out the biggest claim against it for more than $20 million.

"It was a test case to determine if the BIA had a legal duty to the $9 billion building industry, plagued by leaky building syndrome..."

Oh, the irony.

Let me tell you a brief fairy tale. Once upon a time, several years ago, in a land awfully much like this one, a government department called the BIA, and an eager young researcher cousin BRANZ, were set up to mandate and oversee standards and practices in buildings, to authorise and dictate building systems, and to stamp the government's authority on an errant building industry -- in essence to say what the King would and would not allow in building, and to give what they had allowed the Royal seal of approval.

Many people rejoiced that this would save them the brain-ache of being allowed to decide for themselves what was safe and sound. 'Stuff with our seal of approval is safe and sound,' said the nice bureaucrats. 'Excellent!' said the people. Meanwhile, those who did wish to decide for themselves were told not to. 'Don't worry,' the BIA and BRANZ told everyone, 'as long as you all do what you're told and as you're told and when you're told, we'll make sure nothing untoward happens to you.'

And for a while, everything was good in the BIA, and many careers in government were confirmed, and many building suppliers got rich by getting their building systems and their materials approved by the BIA; and many important meetings were attended, many bureaucratic salaries paid, and many BIA determinations and approvals issued.

And the little people of this fair land did all that they were allowed to do and all that they were told to do, and many houses on many hills were erected in the fashion that BIA determinations and approvals said they were allowed to be and told to be - and everyone knew they were safe and sound and could stop thinking for themselves, because as everyone knows the job of the King is to keep everyone safe and sound, and wasn't he and his men doing their job so well! 'Approved by the BIA.' 'Tested by BRANZ.' These were Royal seals of approval and official stamps of safety and soundness that could be relied up on to keep everyone warm and dry. And lo, the people rejoiced in ther homes, and the bureaucrats rejoiced in their big, shiny offices that the people were made to pay for. And the King decided that all was good, and he went off to climb a mountain.

Until one day, the rains came. And it turned out the job had not been done so well; that some of what the BIA had determined had to happen, and had approved should happen, shouldn't have happened at all. And then it also turned out that the people at BRANZ and the BIA were not all-seeing and all-knowing, and that their job had really been one of 'all care and no responsibility.' 'Whoops,' said BRANZ. 'Whoops,' said the BIA; and they changed their name and withdrew their approvals. 'It wasn't our fault,' they said, 'and anyway, you can't sue us because we don't exist anymore.' And they pointed fingers, and vanished in a puff of bureaucracy.

And the good people of that merry, green land looked to each other and wondered why they had ever taken the government and their minions seriously. They wondered why they had worried more about 'fly-by-night' builders, when it was clearly 'fly-by-night' government departments that were the witches and warlocks. And meanwhile, good builders and good designers and home-owners who had relied upon the determinations and approvals of BRANZ and the BIA as being safe, found that the policy of 'all care and no responsibility' only applied to government, and to government departments, and to big suppliers with big legal departments. And they began fighting amongst each other. And many good people were ruined. And many other good people went to Queensland and retired. And the cost of building doubled in that green and merry land.

And everyone wondered why they had let it happen.

(And then perhaps some wondered too whether it might be better if the government set up a Car Approval Authority, to take responsibility for approving second-hand cars before they're sold... 'Well, it works for houses,' said one wag.)

Linked Article: $20m leaky home case struck out

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