Thursday, June 07, 2018

When agencies lie

In New Zealand, we expect our government to be straight with us and tell the truth if asked. And as a result, we accept their answers as truthful. Unfortunately, government officials frequently exploit our credulity to shut down criticism. This appears to be what happened when NZTA blatantly lied to the public about unsafe Chinese steel in highway projects:

A major steel failure on a Waikato highway has come to light two years after the Transport Agency publicly denied there was any problem.

Documents that the agency has been forced to release to RNZ by the Ombudsman have revealed the extra problems on the Huntly section of the new Waikato Expressway.

They also show the agency had no requirement for independent steel testing at the Transmission Gully highway being built near quake-prone Wellington, and a general lack of oversight of steel buying for the country's major highway projects.


The newly-released emails between agency managers and Huntly's contractors show that shortly before the Fulton Hogan-HEB joint venture discovered the bridge pile casings were substandard, they'd also had 600 huge steel rods fail.


The agency did not mention these failed rods when RNZ asked it nine days later if the bridge casings were the only problem; instead, the agency told RNZ "there have been no similar problems identified with steel used in
other state highway projects".

[Emphasis added]

That answer is strictly true - there were no problems with other projects - but hideously misleading, in that it elided the additional problems discovered on the Waikato Expressway. And of course, the reason there were no problems identified with other projects was because they simply weren't looking for them. It was thus a calculated attempt to mislead the public to protect NZTA officials from the natural result of their own incompetence. Those officials then conspired to block further OIA requests which would have uncovered their deceit.

It is unclear from the story whether they have suffered any employment consequences for this, but they need to. The officials responsible for this need to be fired.. We simply can not tolerate deceitful government in this country. It is corrosive of public trust, corrosive of legitimacy, and ultimately, corrosive of our democracy.