Editorial: Mail thefts corrode communities

16:00, Nov 13 2012

Fernhill residents are entitled to be angry and reproachful at the discovery of thousands of undelivered mail items, some of them opened, and the subsequent arrest of a NZ Post contractor.

Whether or not the thefts stemmed primarily from avarice, or some sort of compounding inability to cope, remains to be seen.

Regardless, and by any standard, it represents a monstrous betrayal of trust.

Each one of those stashed-away items creates a potential problem for the cheated recipients and senders, from the financial consequences of bills going unpaid and penalties being incurred to the personal ripples that might result from family communications seemingly ignored.

Then there's the damage done by mistrust and misplaced blame.

Institutions and individuals may have come to disbelieve each others' assurances about what had been sent or had gone unreceived. This sets up a fractious climate.


Even when people may have realised that thieving was afoot, there would be no shortage of innocent parties who could have been unfairly implicated.

This would be damaging not only to individuals but also to the wider community, perhaps giving rise to the sour suspicion that this was somehow just a particularly dishonest neighbourhood.

Now there's liable to be acute interest as well in whether the authorities might have acted sooner.

Entirely understandable. However there's evidence that the number of complaints came in slowly for starters and accelerated spectacularly in recent times.

Accepting this, and that not everyone would be so scrupulous as to make it a tip-top priority to investigate why their latest bills had not arrived on cue, it is still hard to escape the conclusion that Fernhill has been an uncomplaining community.

And to an extent that seems strange in the circumstances.

There's a wider lesson for the rest of us in that.

Authorities and companies do like to say they value complaints because it helps them identify problems and resolve them. Which it does. Or should, anyway.

Yet there is still a perceptible reluctance, in southern society anyway, to go crook. At least not until we are sorely exasperated.

But that is oftentimes weighing in late. Where missing mail is concerned it is always worth complaining from the get-go.

For one thing, as this case testifies, it may help speed up what might otherwise be the sluggish detection of offending.

For another, the stakes have never been potentially higher than they are now, with identity theft increasingly a problem that carries serious consequences with it.

We should also see here a reminder of the benefits of having open channels of communication of the good old Neighbourhood Watch variety.

These are particularly useful when it comes to helping detect a pattern and scale of offending that might otherwise fly much longer under the collective radar.

The Southland Times