Why do governments/organisations choose to ignore warnings?

It seems to be a recurring pattern among governments across the free world, so widespread that if governments were living entities we would have said that it is hardwired in their DNA. Systematically, political decision-makers at various levels in different countries knowingly choose to pay no heed to advance warnings that are notified to them, in documents or commissioned reports which are submitted at regular intervals.

One is left to wonder why this tendency persists, in as much as acknowledgement of the gaps identified and timely implementation of the remedial measures invariably suggested can not only boost their image but, more importantly, save or make better use of taxpayer money and even, in an increasing number of cases still fresh in one’s mind, prevent the death of innocent people.

In our own country, every year we are issued with an Audit Report, and there is the Public Accounts Committee which does a post-mortem and comes up with another report. What happens afterwards is never known – but it would seem not much because the next Report comes up with another shopping list of things not done/ought to have been or to be done. The latest Audit report was made public a couple of days ago, and the contents are predictable déjà vu, as happens every year.

Indifference, apathy, inefficiency, corruption – or arrogance of governments? Let the people judge for themselves, but it is only too obvious that no country can afford to go on like this.

Locally, the flooding in March that resulted in the unfortunate loss of lives uncovered several issues which had been flagged in one way or another to the authorities, which had failed to tackle them. There were contextual, such as the recommendation made years earlier about the urgent need for a Doppler radar, as well as systemic failings and weaknesses. One example of the latter is the blurring of lines of responsibility as regards the maintenance of drains in the Capital – among the municipality, the Ministry of Environment and the Ministry of Public Infrastructure. This gave rise to a public exhibition of acrimony among these stakeholders, in other words a blame game that did honour to neither and certainly not to the country! But where is the leader? – it was asked.

In India, much a similar echo was sounded when the devastating floods in the State of Uttarakhand took place one month ago. In countless reports by government agencies and by environmentalist NGOs, the rampant, unregulated construction of concrete buildings on hillsides and riverbanks had been decried, and measures/alternatives proposed – to no avail. The authorities gave a deaf ear: so too to the recommendation for the installation of several Doppler radars in strategic locations. Even a warning of unusually heavy rains in specified areas — which were the sites of the flooding subsequently – issued by the meteorological services 48 hours earlier was not given due consideration. And we know what that catastrophe has meant: nearly 6000 lives deemed lost.

On Tuesday last came another tragedy: schoolchildren in a village in Bihar fell ill after consuming a midday meal. 22 of them have already died, some within hours because of poor medical support, and 30 are critically ill in hospital. The cook and her family have absconded, and an inspection of the store has shown that gardening chemicals were lying next to foodstuff which looked so poorly that one wondered whether they were in fact fit for consumption at all. Preliminary reports of post-mortems indicate that there may have been poisoning, and a high level of phosphorus has been detected.

And yet, there are reports on the failings in the implementation of the midday meal schemes – which is working well in many States, covering nearly 120 million children in all in the country – which were submitted to the authorities in Bihar several years ago. But again, according to the investigating journalists, these failings were not addressed.

In the UK, reports about sexual abuse of children in homes, and about gross neglect of the elderly in facilities coming under the government social security services went unheeded. It was only after the damage was done and somehow came to the surface that the authorities woke up belatedly to the facts that glared at them and hurriedly investigations were ordered, and some heads rolled.

Ditto with reports concerning the National Health Service in Staffordshire, which were damning to say the least. Geriatric patients were found to be wallowing in their excretions in badly soiled beds, amongst other gross examples of mismanagement.

On the other hand, the paedophilia scandal that rocked the Catholic Church and the alleged complicit role of the Vatican, and the ‘protecting’ one (vis-à-vis the deviant priests) of ex-Pope Benedict has been sufficiently ventilated that we don’t need to go into it again. The problem is not yet fully over, though.

In the US, in the wake of cyclone Sandy that hit New York State last year, Newsweek magazine came up with an article in which it warned: ‘Disaster far greater than Sandy looms – unless we move fast to fix a badly broken system.’

The ‘system’ comprises ailing, rusting bridges on railroads and highways; nearly 1800 dams that may burst after heavy rains, according to the American Society of Civil Engineers; electrical lines vulnerable to falling structures including trees, and those that need replacement as part of a replacement cycle; sewer and water pipes that need to be changed; an unknown (to the federal government) number of levees that are weakened by erosion, and so on.

It will be recalled that the bursting of a levee during cyclone Katrina was largely responsible for the severe inundation in New Orleans. The author makes a list of 12 measures that have to be worked upon urgently in order to prevent a future Armageddon in the US.

We have all been warned.


* Published in print edition on 19 July  2013

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