Learn from China
Posted on May 8th, 2017

Editorial Courtesy The Island

Anything Indian goes under the present yahapalana dispensation as is common knowledge. Government leaders shuttle between Colombo and New Delhi so frequently that when they get up in the morning they must be wondering which city they are in. They are known for their predilection for adopting Indian models from ambulance services to devolution. But, there are lessons that we can learn from China, as well, but, sadly they have gone unlearnt. We don’t mean the wrong ones like digging up land to build inland harbours or reclaiming land from the sea to build mega cities at an enormous cost. Instead, we have to learn from China how to hold state officials accountable for their actions at least where disasters are concerned.

In China, as many as 45 persons have been jailed over a landfill collapse which snuffed out 73 lives in Shenzhen two years ago. The media reported extensively on that disaster in 2015, jolting the Chinese authorities into action. Among those sent to jail are the manager of the company that ran the waste soil and construction material dump and the former head of the city administration bureau: they got 20-year jail terms for criminal negligence.

International media reports tell us that 20 Chinese public officials have also been thrown behind bars for the Shenzhen disaster, which occurred as there had been 5.8 million cubic metres of waste materials in the dump which was permitted to hold only four million cubic metres of waste. At the time of collapse, the landfill was 160m tall whereas the recommended height was only 95m. This kind of stringent punishment is called for as it is sure to have a deterrent effect on the entire officialdom; no official will dare expose the public to danger hereafter.

But, in this country, neither politicians nor bureaucrats have to fear legal action for their commissions and omissions which are legion and lead to disasters. Nobody has been held accountable for the Meethotamulla garbage dump collapse, which killed more than 32 persons a few weeks ago. In the immediate aftermath of the tragedy, we wrote in this space that the officials responsible for running the dump and their political masters were lucky that we were without laws to make them face firing squads for their serious lapses which had led to the tragedy.

Sri Lankan parliamentarians, provincial councillors and local government members visit China at the expense of the public, year in year out, claiming to study various things in that country. Let the Chinese government be requested to take them to Shenzhen and also make arrangements for them to visit the government officials in prison for the 2015 landfill disaster.

Needless to say that accountability is an integral part of good governance, which the present administration claims to uphold. But, it is conspicuous by its absence in spite of moral tub-thumping we hear from the present-day leaders ad nauseam. A former minister has been charged with misusing one vehicle under the previous government. Such action is, no doubt, welcome, but the question is why those responsible for far worse offences such as the mega bond scams which have cost the state coffers and the workers’ superannuation fund billions of rupees and creating garbage mountains which expose the public to danger, have not been hauled up before courts.

Environmental groups are a dime a dozen in this country. Will they care to explore the possibility of instituting legal action against the bureaucrats and politicians, both past and present, responsible for dumping garbage at Meethotamulla over the years amidst protests from the public and in spite of warnings of a disaster?

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