As if the former residents of Mascot Towers in Sydney weren’t doing it tough enough, last month they received another blow and it’s one that smacks of local government incompetence, with maybe even a whiff of potential corruption.
As the NSW government cranks up an investigation into what led to the emergency evacuation three years ago this month of the 10-storey, 132-apartment block, it has emerged that vital documents relating to the approvals for the building have gone missing.
It’s hard to tell the significance of these missing Mascot papers, but their absence can’t make the fight for justice and restitution any easier for the owners who woke up one morning in June 2019 to find their relatively new block was sagging and cracking.
It has stood empty since the day they were told to get out and stay out.
Mascot Towers was approved under the former Botany Bay City Council, which was merged with Rockdale Council in 2016 to create the new Bays Council, amid allegations of embezzlement or misappropriation of more than $5m of taxpayers funds by a number of former council employees.
In 2017 the Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) found Botany’s former Chief Financial Officer Gary Goodman guilty of corruption over the missing cash. He died later that year.
And now the paper trail that might have revealed who approved what – and why – in regard to Mascot Towers has ended in a lost file, or perhaps maybe even a document shredder.
All of which brings us to the controversial data Hub set up by Services NSW to gather a heap of information about strata schemes in the state – a plan which, as we have previously discussed might lead to privacy-conscious strata committee office-bearers quitting.
But there is a positive side to the Hub. It is designed to hoover up an apparently broad and largely mundane set of facts blocks, from the strata plan numbers, to the number of homes and storeys above ground level in the apartment block.
In the middle of this data maze, is a request for the date the block was given a certificate of occupation.
This is a critical document in the life of a strata plan because until that is issued, owners can’t move in, so developers can’t complete sales. This is one of the documents thought to be missing in the Mascot fiasco.
At the very least the NSW Hub, which comes into effect at the end of this month, will force strata schemes – and their managers if they are so requested – to hunt these documents down.
Had the Mascot Towers owners sought the documents earlier, they might not have disappeared into the bureaucratic sinkhole that’s created when incompetence and corruption collide.
So what does this mean for all the other states and territories that don’t have a data hub?
In the short term, not a lot. But taking a big-picture view, knowing exactly what all your essential documents include, and where they are, is as essential to strata schemes as passports and driving licenses are to individuals.
You don’t need them every day, or even every year, but you do want to know where they are in case you do need them.
To that end, there are companies just an internet search away that will take all your essential records, including committee and AGM agendas and minutes, and digitise them.
This will not only make your essential records searchable, it will render them pretty much undeletable, especially if you keep a number of back-ups. They haven’t yet invented a shredder that can “accidentally” erase material that’s stored on the cloud as well as on a number of hard drives.
A version of this column first appeared in the Australian Financial Review.
If you liked this post or found it helpful, please share it with interested friends using the social media buttons. If you wish to respond, registered readers can add a comment at the foot of the story or, preferably, on the Flat Chat Forum.