Word of the day

December 10, 2012

Exigency –  a pressing or urgent need, demand or situation; calling for or requiring much effort or immediate action; that which is required in a particular situation.

CTV building should never have got permit

December 10, 2012

Their will be no comfort for the families and friends of those who died in the CTV building collapse as a result of the February 22nd earthquake in the report from the Royal Commission.

Prime Minister John Key said:

 . . . “There were 185 people who lost their lives in the Christchurch earthquake on 22 February 2011. Of those, 175 deaths were due to failures of buildings or parts of buildings,” Mr Key says.

“We owed it to them, their loved ones left behind, and those people badly injured in the earthquake, to find answers as to why some buildings failed so severely.” . . .

The report concludes:

. . .  the engineering design of the CTV building was deficient in a number of respects. It also concludes the building should never have been issued with a building permit by the Christchurch City Council, because its design did not comply with the standards of the time, and there were inadequacies in the construction of the building,” Mr Key says.

“The Royal Commission report also states the CTV building was given a green sticker after the September earthquake but it was only inspected by three building officials, none of whom was an engineer, and this should not have occurred. 

“We recognise this news will be of little comfort to the friends and families of the 115 people who lost their lives in the CTV building on that fateful day.

“Nothing will ever bring their loved ones back and we cannot dull their pain. My thoughts are with them as they continue to try to come to terms with their loss.” . . .

There is no only about any number of deaths, but given how many people were in the centre of Christchurch on the day of the earthquake the death toll was not high. That was due in no small part to building standards.

But most of those who died were in the CTV building where something went badly wrong in the application of those standards.

The report details what went wrong but, at least from an admittedly quick read, it doesn’t explain how it was able to happen.

Understanding that will be an important step in ensuring such a thing doesn’t happen again.




Thanks Telecom

December 10, 2012

Telecom has announced changes to overseas roaming charges which will significantly reduce the cost of calls and data in several countries:

A feature is a flat daily rate for data roaming by postpaid customers across major travel markets. Australia roaming will start at a specially reduced rate of $6 a day (Telecom will review the rate in mid 2013). Customers will pay just $10 a day flat rate for data while travelling in the UK, USA, Canada, China, Hong Kong, Macau, Taiwan, and Saudi Arabia. Telecom’s fair use policy applies to these rates .

Data roaming charges will be slashed by 83% to 92% in other markets, although charges will continue to be on a usage basis.

The new postpaid pricing schedule also includes new voice call roaming rates, featuring a 35% cut in the per-minute rate for Australia. Rate bands across all other markets have been simplified to make them easier to follow, with individual market rates either reduced by up to 50% or broadly similar to current rates.

For prepaid customers, data roaming charges will reduce by up to 88% and voice roaming charges by up to 45%. . . 

This is a vast improvement on the current very expensive rates for making calls or using data and much more convenient than using a local sim card while away from home.

It should be good for business too as a lot of frequent travellers who use their phones and iPads as infrequently as possible unless they can get wireless connections when overseas will be far less concerned about the cost.

Fonterra forecast payout up 25 cents

December 10, 2012

Fonterra suppliers have just received an early Christmas present.

A newsletter from chair, Henry van der Heyden announced an increase of 25 cents in the forecast payout.

That takes it up to $5.90 – $6.00 before retentions.

That’s made up of a higher farm gate milk price of $5.50 per kilogram of milk solids, up from $5.25 and reconfirmed net profit after tax range of 40-50 cents.The company is also increasing the advance rate by 40 cents so payments from late January will be $4.25 – up from $3.85.This shows the company recognises farmers have tight balance sheets and is using its strong balance sheet to help.Fonterra expects global dairy prices to increase in the first half of next year.It’s seeing signs of strengthening dairy prices, partially driven by global weather like drought in US, Russia and Ukraine and extremely wet conditions in Brazil and Argentina.

That’s welcome news for suppliers.

Whether new shareholders are quite as happy will remain to be seen because usually a higher milk price is reflected in a lower dividend.

What’s appropriate, where’s the empathy?

December 10, 2012

If you’ve been at a 21st or wedding recently you might have been subjected to speeches with content you’d prefer not to have heard and that many would regard as inappropriate for the occasion and audience.

After one such speech, discussion on it ended with the observation – if people don’t know what’s appropriate at social occasions,  how do they behave at work?

The answer for 2Day FM, the radio station which recorded, mulled upon and then broadcast the phone conversation with a nurse about the Duchess of Cambridge’s health, is that they don’t know what’s appropriate there either.

The DJs who made the call couldn’t possibly have anticipated the nurse who first answered the phone would later commit suicide.

Nor could any of those who listened to it and okayed the broadcast.

However, during the vetting process someone should have questioned whether it was appropriate to phone a hospital to ask after the health of a patient, regardless of who she was, then broadcast the conversation with the nurse who gave the information.

Had that question been asked, the answer should have been no.

There’s nothing new about prank calls and they can be funny.

What’s funny is very much a matter of opinion, so too is what’s appropriate.

At Sciblogs, Michael Edmonds has some rules to judge  if a prank is acceptable:

1) The prank must not do any damage, physical or otherwise. If it creates a mess you get to clean it up

2) The person being “pranked” should find it funny (i.e. it must be someone you know and can anticipate a humorous reaction from)

3) The prank must not humiliate the person in any way

4) You must be okay with being pranked in return. If you can’t handle it, you shouldn’t dish it out.

Anyone with a reasonable degree of empathy would have realised that the call to the hospital wouldn’t have passed the first three tests.

The question to be asked is not just what’s appropriate, but also where’s the empathy?

Councils should stick to knitting

December 10, 2012

Local Government New Zealand president Lawrence Yule has welcomed  comments  from Auditor General Lyn Provost on local authority Long Term Plans:

It notes councils’ financial strategies in their Long Term Plans (LTPs) are characterised by:

  • reducing or deferring spending
  • stabilising or reducing overall debt.

Regarding rates, it is noted that “the year-on-year movement is on average five per cent (for Auckland Council the average is 6.1 per cent and for all other local authorities the combined average is 4.3 per cent).

“The findings are in stark contrast to the justification for the recent Local Government Act 2002 Amendment Bill, which has just received the Royal Assent. The Bill was introduced in response to a perceived crisis in the way councils manage their finances,” says LGNZ President, Lawrence Yule.

“The sector continually seeks efficiencies and savings and the audit process will always focus a Council’s attention on this approach. This report shows that these improvements are being made.”

Although the report also highlights the challenges facing councils in funding infrastructure, it states “overall, local authorities are planning to live within their means.”

Debt when used wisely can be a way of spreading the costs of infrastructure over a period of time.

Debt  used wisely can be a way of spreading the cost of infrastructure which has inter-generational benefit over its lifetime.

But that doesn’t mean that the LGA 2002 didn’t require amendments because Ms Provost said:

However, a question remains about what specific information in the LTPs (and in the audited annual financial statements) is most helpful for informing judgements about the financial prudence and long-term financial sustainability of an individual local authority or the sector as a whole.

What constitutes prudence and long-term financial sustainability is a matter of judgement, and there are currently few agreed methods of analysis. As a result, it is difficult to be definitive about the state of an individual local authority or the sector. . .

The AG points out that some capital expenditure is often associated with the need to upgrade systems to meet new standards which reinforces the justifiable complaint from councils about the burden imposed on them by successive governments.

The AG concludes:

As part of the Better Local Government initiative, the Local Government Efficiency Taskforce is considering the nature of planning, accountability, and decision-making of local authorities. We have offered our insights (consistent with those outlined in this report) to the Taskforce. We have also suggested that local authorities present a more strategic focus on the main issues (including prospective financial information and level-of-service intentions), and provide access to supporting data and policies through the local authority’s website.

I continue to encourage local authorities to consistently invest in preparing shorter, clearer, and more informative LTPs, so the community is able to take part in more informed and effective consultation on a local authority’s intentions.

The future sustainability of local government services such as roads, water, libraries, and rubbish disposal are critical to our communities. Delivering on these LTPs in an effective and efficient manner is the next challenge.

The report says:

In the last two years, local authorities have been good at budgeting for their operational expenditure, but overestimated their likely levels of capital expenditure. We consider this under-expenditure indicative of the challenges of delivering a diverse range of projects each year. However, there is scope for the sector to improve reporting in this area so that it is easier for the users of local authorities’ annual reports and LTPs to understand whether forecast projects have been delayed, whether there is a tendency for conservative overestimating, or whether cost savings have been achieved. In the LTPs, capital expenditure for 2012-22 is forecast at $37 billion. Of this, 59% is to meet increasing demand (often as a result of growth) or to improve levels of service.

The overestimation of likely levels of capital expenditure in the past two years raises questions about the realism of local authorities’ longer-term assessments of the cost of their asset renewal and expansion programmes, as forecast in the LTPs. This emphasises the importance of robust asset management plans (AMPs) as the foundation of every LTP. . . .

However, we are concerned that a small number of non-metropolitan local authorities are planning large increases to their debt levels. We assessed these local authorities as financially prudent, but they face greater risks in the accuracy of their forecasting, growth patterns, and ability to deal with the unexpected as their capacity to respond to shocks reduces.

Conversely, a number of mostly smaller local authorities are planning for little or no debt during the 10-year period. If these local authorities are carrying out large capital projects, this raises some questions about the appropriateness of their financial strategies and equity between ratepayers in paying for long-term infrastructure projects. These two contrasting approaches demonstrate the importance of a clearly described financial strategy that enables the community to understand the current and long-term implications of the local authority’s forecast use of debt, particularly in the context of asset condition and forecast capital expenditure levels. . .

My interpretation of that is that councils need to stick to their knitting, and ensure the patterns they use are simple and easily understood by ratepayers.

Hat Tip: Credo Quia Absurdum Est.

120 cows dead in accident

December 10, 2012

The death of one cow is a blow to a dairy farmer, 120 at once is a catastrophe.

A Whakatane dairy farmer is rallying farmers across the country to help a South Taranaki couple who had 120 cows die on their farm this week.

About 15 vets rushed to the Oeo farm of Chris and Catherine Cook on Tuesday but could not save the dying animals, part of a herd of 600 and worth an estimated $400,000.

Vets are not saying what caused the deaths but had ruled out nitrate poisoning this morning. . .

Whakatane dairy farmer Rod McPherson is calling on fellow farmers to help the Cooks out.

McPherson had contacted Fonterra to arrange for anyone who wanted to donate a cow to help rebuild the couple’s livelihood to get in touch. . .

Mrs Cook’s brother, John Murphy, said this morning the family was not ready to speak but was grateful for all the support they had received.

The couple, who have a young family, said farmers had offered them cows and people were taking meals to their house. 

The wider community, including Fonterra and DairyNZ, was supporting the couple.

About 20 cows were still sick and were being looked after and milked only once a day. 

The rest of the herd was fine.

Murphy said he thought it would be a long time before the couple were ready to talk about their ordeal. 

Meanwhile, Newstalk ZB has reported this morning the cows died after a water trough was topped up with a portable tank used earlier to dissolve nitrogen.

But Taranaki Veterinary centre chief executive Stephen Hopkinson, of Hawera, said he would not release the cause without the permission of his clients.

“It’ll be up the family to make that decision – when they’re ready to discuss it,” he said.

“But to avoid scaremongering, I can say it’s not nitrate poisoning.”  . . .

The Cooks are former Taranaki Sharemilker of the Year winners.

Good sharemilkers know their cows individually. These deaths will be an emotional and financial blow to them.

We had TB in our herd a few years ago and had to kill a lot of stock. It was a very difficult time but at least compensation is available for that.

It’s too expensive to insure stock for accidental death and farmers accept the odd loss as inevitable but none would expect to lose 20% of their herd.

The Farming Show is seeking donations to help the couple.

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