Fire your attorney and hang up your contract drafting skills, you seemingly don’t need them in Kiwi-land; at least not for a few more years. While the rest of the westernized dog-eat-dog world is worrying about legal ramifications to every business decision they make and the fear of being sued, Kiwis still embrace the honor system in a manner reminiscent of early 1950’s America. Across farm strewn country highways, fresh flowers, fruits, vegetables and other consumables are prominently placed on display roadside with a small “honor box” requesting a marginal payment for whatever you take.
No high-tech security, no surveillance and no consequences for your failure to place a few coins in the box. Only your conscience is watching.
This week the Kiwi honor system touched us in a surprising way. After opening a local bank account for convenience of retrieving cash for travels, we wired funds to that account more than a week ago and received an email indicating the wire had been sent. Visiting the local ATM for the first time yesterday, we withdrew a much needed $800 in cash since we were heading to areas that only accept cash for rooms and merchandise. When our receipt indicated a negative account balance, we popped inside the bank to inquire why. Much confusion and many phone calls to the head office revealed that the account had not been funded and they had not received a funds transfer. Complicating matters was the fact that it was Friday afternoon on Kiwi Labor Day weekend and we cannot call our U.S. bank until after the local banks are closed. However, understanding our dilemma and need for cash, the bank officers simply told us “keep the $800 you withdrew since you’re going to need it and we’ll get this worked out next week when you can call your U.S. bank.” Even more stunning was their added advice “in case the $800 doesn’t hold you and you need more money, you should be able to hit another machine and make another withdrawal using that card”. We were speechless, but thankful that even banks practice the honor system!
Unfortunately, if you leave the cash register open and unattended long enough, sooner or later someone is bound to put their hand in the drawer. Most recently, New Zealand television reported the arrest of a man who had created over a hundred fake identities, filed for social benefits payments and bilked the government out of 3.5 million dollars over the last three years. It was a complicated scam in which the man walked into local Social Services offices, presented no identification and simply filed for payments by essentially saying “Hi, I’m <insert name here> and I’d like to start receiving unemployment benefits because I don’t have a job”. The government employees efficiently set him up in the computer and began sending regular checks as well as medical and prescription drug coverage. Kiwis were stunned to learn that such a thing could conceivably happen but government officials were speechless on television when asked whether they knew that the man had already been convicted and served jail time for perpetrating the same crime in Australia and the United States.
With your complimentary government check, why not take a free car as well. Another local TV station recently walked into the registration offices where vehicle tags are renewed and simply “stole” vehicles. No identification required, they simply paid for new license registrations on vehicles in a nearby parking lot and had the information updated to reflect their names as the rightful owners. Met on camera in the parking lot, the actual vehicle owners were genuinely surprised to find that the TV crew had acquired a legal document stating they were the owner of the vehicle. Government officials issued a public statement that they would be quickly changing the system and would now require identification to make changes to a vehicle ownership or registration. Now that this has been resolved, I had better get cracking. There are another 37 ATM’s to visit before the Labor Day Weekend (here) is over.