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Ministry of Works Dissolution started Leaky Buildings & Earthquake Vulnerability

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Sudden disappearance of New Zealand civil engineering institution led to standards decline claims correspondent


The rush to bury the reality and the memory of the old New Zealand Ministry of Works had a singular and tangible outcome. This was the standards vacuum. The subsequent leaky building problem and the modern buildings which collapsed due to earthquakes in Christchurch are the result of this.

This state of affairs was referred to, but not at the length it deserved by your original correspondent who correctly described the New Zealand “way” in which entities once believed to be of value are suddenly swept away and in this process are deemed in every way to be bad. This is an impression that as your original correspondent observed then proceeds to compound on itself over the years.

The Ministry of Works’ meticulously enforced quality standards should have been carefully preserved. Instead what happened was that the dissolution of the old Ministry of Works introduced a facet of the law of unintended consequence. This took the form of the disappearance of New Zealand’s high level construction standards which if not actually enforced by the Ministry served as a yardstick for the entire sector whether Ministry or not.

It was now that was created the standards vacuum situation which I have just described. Now allow me to take a step backwards. A problem in New Zealand construction has long been for people to represent themselves as doing work that they are not in fact institutionally qualified to do. This is unavoidable in a new country and one in which the demand for construction people will often outweigh the supply of them.
These “chancers” as we used to call them are often valuable just because they are self-taught and often work hard to overcome their lack of officially sanctioned training.  The problem starts though when such people assume professional roles in which test and measurement qualifications of an institutional type are by definition essential.

In the aftermath of the disappearance of the old Ministry of Works so there began also to disappear the inspectorates and their cadres of highly qualified people who themselves had been tested practically and theoretically. The gnawing away of the old Ministry standards was by now well under way and has been compounded by the failure of the professional societies to claim responsibility for the demonstrable failure of their own authorised practitioners.

Yours faithfully
Alan Grimble