Editorial: The best policy, and all that

22:30, May 10 2014

If the news sometimes makes you fear honesty's gone down the dunny, this week brought reassurance that sometimes the reverse is true.

An IT student in New Zealand who found NZ$108,000 in a toilet when he was working as a cleaner in Australia in 2011, and promptly handed it in, can now keep some of it.

[You can see why so many people were migrating to Australia back then - Aussies were so flush for money it was clogging the pipes.]

The rightful owner, if we can use that term inadvisedly, hasn't surfaced.

This might be faintly disappointing to those who like a good yarn, because we didn't get to hear their explanation, be it ripely confessional or fascinatingly innocent.

Given the widespread suspicion that the filthy lucre at Channel 9's Dockland headquarters had almost certainly been abandoned in dodgy circumstances, and that lavatory cleaners aren't usually swimming in wealth themselves, it was no small thing that Chamindu Amarsinghe's honesty held sway.


How pleasing it was, then, when magistrate Michael Smith this week ordered NZ$44,431 should go back to Amarsinghe.

The judge's thinking couldn't have been simpler: "There's no reason why such honesty should go unrewarded".

Not to be to terribly trans-Tasman about this, but striking acts of honesty keep occurring here, too, of course. Last year was particularly good for stories about kids fronting up, like 8-year-old Jesse Park in Mt Eden, and 12-year-old Matthew Marsh from Whanganui, and Kakohe kids Mihi Christmann-Williams, 9, and her brother Ngakau, 7, who were among the usual host of found-wallet returners.

[Here we might airily point out that there may soon be an app for that. Not honesty, regrettably, but finding lost stuff like wallets. Scientists have created a system that enables people to look for lost items like wallets using a search engine on their phone and computer, using tiny sensors previously placed on valuables. The search area is a bit low-powered and localised as things stand, but such things can be improved.]

But one of the great honesty stories of recent times was that of homeless US man Billy Ray Harris, who slept under a bridge and spent his days in a Kansas City square asking passers-by for change.

When one woman accidentally dropped her engagement ring with a donation, Harris admits "I had that little devil on my shoulder saying ‘Keep the money' ".

But he resisted the urge to pawn it and when the grateful owner made his case public, he was substantially rewarded by third-party admirers. His story took several happy upswings, to the extent that he is no longer homeless and has been reunited with his sister.

The really interesting thing was that when a local television station asked him about the scale of the reaction, he didn't simply murmur the easily evoked appreciations, but instead further proved his honesty.

"What I actually feel is, ‘What is the world coming to when a person returns something that doesn't belong to him and all this happens?'."

Harris should be reassured. People were not reacting to the rarity of his honesty, merely to the mettle of it. A particularly good example of a particularly good thing. Thoroughly worth celebrating on those terms alone.

The Southland Times