A friend sent me an email with pictures of a building in China that has keeled over and fallen. For a moment I thought it was joke until further research revealed that it was indeed true.
Given that the Chinese are constructing a highway, a harbour, a coal fired power plant and much else lets hope that they do a better job here than they do in China.
Hang on, hang on a minute. Didn't a bridge of the highway collapse already? That too with no traffic on it, it just collapsed under its own weight. There were also the mysterious fires in the coal power plant. The power plant seems to be operating below capacity and have a few other problems as well. It almost looks like the Chinese are trying to get a rather hot potato off their hands.
The harbour, although opened is not yet operational due to a few small technical hitches.
The collapsed building in China is a good illustration of the impact of corruption. Basic safety, building and planning regulations are not enforced because either
(a) the builders have paid off the officials who are supposed to do their job or;
(b) they have sufficient influence to bypass the regulations. ie The authorities are too afraid to enforce the rules because the officials concerned will be penalised if they do.
Corruption is not therefore just a matter of money; undue influence over public officials has (from the point of view of the ordinary citizen) exactly the same impact. What matters is that rules, principles and policies are bypassed; it is not how they are circumvented that matters.
The second important lesson is that corruption is not about someone making a little money on the side, it is also that it can pose a danger to the public. The controversy over substandard cement is a case in point.
Interestingly enough, poor policy preceded the import of the substandard cement. The Government imposed price controls on cement, which lead to a shortage. The Government then triumphantly rode to the rescue with the import of cheap cement, which turned out to be substandard. Leave aside the question that someone made a buck dumping cement; who will answer if a building collapses and kills someone?
We now learn that there is also a danger from X-Ray machines that have obviously been imported bypassing standard regulations? The patients must now decide which hospitals are likely to be safe, as far as X-Rays are concerned. Hopefully someone in the private hospitals will take the responsibility to check that their equipment is in order, many may actually market their services on this basis. But what of the average man who has to visit the state run hospitals?
I know for a fact that the vast majority of the Chinese tableware in the market is lead contaminated. How do I know this? Because a friend who works in one of these companies was looking for cheap products to stock their showrooms with.
They imported some from China but is was rejected due to lead contamination. Desperate for stocks, they bought some stuff wholesale from Pettah, all from China and all of which turned out to be lead contaminated. They tried samples from many different vendors, all were bad. I think they are now sourcing from local manufacturers, all of who meet the standards.
The question is how did this get into the country? The customs performs tests for lead contamination at the harbour and rejects anything unsafe. Presumably they do the same with X-ray equipment.
No compensation has yet been paid, although many hundreds of motorists faced expensive repairs due to substandard fuel.
The bottom line is corruption is a menace and the public will ultimately pay its price; in terms of shoddy service, high costs or unsafe products.
Restoring the independence of the public service (so that its officials can act without fear or favour), something that the 17th amendment to the constitution attempted to do but which was reversed by the 18th amendment. Improving transparency in public affairs is another measure. A lot can take place in murky backroom deals, shining daylight on these will make this a lot harder.
Naturally, like vampires, they hate bright sunshine which is why the Freedom of Information bill was defeated . The less people know the better. The less the media report, the better. These recent controversies should have been headline news, instead we get little bits and pieces, mostly new flashes or a few things on the internet. No one wants to investigate much or ask too many hard questions.
The public, as ever, wrapped up in their daily lives, pay little attention to seemingly minor items of news. Only when it affects them directly do they understand its gravity and by then the rot has gone too deep.