Friday 13 May 2016

A test of character

It's not easy to invest in New Zealand, or at least not if that investment involves sensitive land or any relatively large firm. The Overseas Investment Office requires demonstration of the prospective investor's good character, and often requires that the investment meet certain other constraints.

This week's brought news that the overstretched OIO has not been particularly diligent in its character assessments; some folks with seemingly dodgy prior histories made it through the filter.

And so we have a great potential test here. Folks on my side have always argued that these character tests are a bit nuts as no foreign investor, however dodgy, can do anything with New Zealand land that a Kiwi couldn't do. Plenty of dodgy Kiwis own land. But doing anything with land requires getting resource consents. It's not like they're going to abscond in the night with a high country sheep station.

If my side was wrong all along, then we should be able to find at least some examples of the dodgy people who slipped through the net having done dodgy things that a Kiwi mightn't have done. And then I'd update. On the other hand, if not really enquiring into folks' backgrounds didn't lead to any real harm when people of less than stellar character made investments, then we should ease back or do away with the character tests.

It's just been a bit odd that all the talk's been about staffing up the OIO so that they can do diligent tests, rather than asking whether not having really done the tests made a whit of real world difference.

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