Fraudulent behaviour a risk in Christchurch rebuild

Kia Ora

A few months ago, whilst at home, a man came up to the door. He purported to be from the Earthquake Commission, assessing damage in my suburb and said he had instructions to go from door to door checking the houses for damage. Knowing that our house had been repaired already, but suspicious about the way that he was behaving, I asked him for identification. He said it was in his car. I told him that I would not co-operate until he showed me his ID. He left the property and never came back.

Such activity is unfortunately not unheard of. Unscrupulous people out to make a fast dollar, and totally unskilled for the jobs they purport to be doing are turning out to be a major headache in Christchurch as the post-earthquake reconstruction of the city gets underway. Estimates by the Government of the potential earthquake-related fraud that could occur in the rebuild have been put as high as N.Z.$2 billion. As tradespeople pour in from around the world to take up jobs in Christchurch, out of every 20 people here for honest purposes and with skills to contribute, there will be a fraud. S/he will be looking at vulnerable properties under the guise of being a representative of the Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority, the Earthquake Commission, an insurance company, or other party related to the rebuild. There will be others offering services who do a shoddy job that needs remedial work done, and claim the money and disappear before the unlucky victim realises what has happened.

I harbour grave concerns about the nature of the fraud, the ability of the New Zealand authorities to deal with it and whether or not the law will be tough enough on those caught. I harbour these concerns in the post-earthquake light where we have seen the systemic failure of the parties responsible for building the Canterbury Television building to do their job. Most have owned up, but some, like Gerald Shirtcliff, who faked a Masters of Civil Engineering from the University of New South Wales have been undone because eventually their mountain of deceit became so huge and so serious that it could not be kept under wraps any longer. His exposure as a fraud of the worst order raises questions about whether or not anyone else involved in the construction industry during the 1980s and 1990s had a hand in the construction of buildings around the city that failed on 22 February 2011.

I also wonder about the ability of the Earthquake Commission and the Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority to vet workers as they arrive and make sure that they are understanding of their legal obligations here. Some of the demolition companies that have sprung up seem to not have developed a social conscience in the way of some of the established firms, by the way they have treated demolition sites and the care taken in demolishing or making safe the buildings. Are the issues currently playing out in Christchurch symptomatic of bigger problems in the New Zealand construction industry or is it something more innocent like an industry caught flat-footed by the size of the task ahead? I hope it is the latter, because if it were the former, going by the Gerald Shirtcliff case, one would do well to ask if any other people like Mr Shirtcliff have/had a dirty hand in the pie.

Take Care,


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