The other deadly ‘virus’: inefficiencyThis has been destroying us for decades

Mahfuz AnamWhile we are haunted by the spectre of coronavirus damaging our society, its health and the economy, there is another “virus” that has been destroying us from inside for decades — inefficiency. The vicious grip of the “inefficiency virus” is being exhibited almost on a daily basis as we take one measure after another to fight the global pandemic.Having an efficient prime minister — even her worst critics admit that she works very hard — is hardly enough when she is served by a system that has no accountability, a structure given more to legalism than to performance and personnel to whom people are meant to be dominated rather than served.While speaking to the district officials on April 7, the prime minister warned that “If we see the trend of its spread in the world, it is like mathematics; and if we gather the experience of other countries, we may face a massive blow in April and we are getting this sign and reports.”The PMs expression of “a massive blow” stands in stark contrast to the repeated messages of being “well prepared” to face the coronavirus that have been given out so far. She referred to “reports” which, if shared, would have given us a clearer picture of the “blow” that is on its way.The dire situation that we face today is known. But are we prepared to face it? While we understand and appreciate the earnestness of the prime minister, we are afraid that the “inefficiency virus” will make our fight against the coronavirus difficult and ineffective and, in many unfortunate cases, fatal.Let us examine our experiences so far. The early warnings were not heeded to say the least. I can live with the fact that when China was the epicentre of the disease, we could have thought that we are not going to be affected. But when it spread to Italy and the evidence was clear that it was carried by travellers, we have allowed flights from China to operate till March 28. What could have led us to this inexplicable and “shooting ourselves in the foot” decision?Then when Italy became the epicentre of the pandemic in Europe, we allowed returnees from Europe — more than two hundred thousand of them — to just walk into Bangladesh. In the name of screening what had at the airport was just a handheld temperature check gun.Then came the fiasco with quarantine. In contrast to the declared policy of hundred percent quarantine on arrival, which proved to be a joke, no preparation was made to handle the volume of traffic. Earlier when students from China were flown back, they had to go through a well-organised quarantine procedure. But when the influx from Europe flooded our airport, the facilities proved highly inadequate because of abysmal preparation leading the authorities to abandon the idea.Then came the most crucial mistake of all — home quarantine without adequate preparation. Returnees from Europe, especially those from Italy, were allowed to return to their villages with instructions to remain in “self-quarantine” without thinking whether it was practical and without ensuring that people understood what “home quarantine” meant. The blunder was further exacerbated by not keeping a record of their cell phone numbers — which most returnees or their relatives had — and their home addresses. This precluded any possibility of monitoring them later.The “inefficiency virus” that Sheikh Hasina has had and will continue to have to grapple with is a multifaceted threat not necessarily confined to a set of inefficient individual officials. Its most debilitating manifestation is a lack of coordination — the right hand not knowing what the left hand is doing. It exists at almost all levels — between ministerial, within them, within departments of respective ministries, within sections of departments and finally between officials who run them as they are more interested in ensuring that protocol and hierarchy are maintained rather than whether a work is done or not.The effect of a lack of coordination was well exhibited by the way our health sector functioned where the minister himself went public with the compliant that he did not know what was going on. The early gulf between claims and reality in terms of preparation of testing facilities, hospitals beds, availability of ventilators, availability of doctors at hospitals, where to report in case of infection, how to get tested if symptom occurs created a huge credibility gap between the authorities and the public.The lack of accountability in government service creates another fertile ground for inefficiency to breed. No official is ever held accountable for a government policy or project not being implemented in full or within the schedule. Rare exception aside, most medium to big projects — mega projects have their own dynamics — are literally never completed on time. Time extensions and cost escalations are normal with seldom any explanation as to why and no one ever being held responsible and punished. A rudimentary investigation in any one of them would have revealed that crores of taka were siphoned off in this manner while the state machinery approved each case of time and cost overrun. On the other side, tax payers had to foot the revised and inflated bills of unexplained and unacceptable cost hike.Whatever may have been the experiences of the last few months, the real test lies ahead for the government. How we tackle the “massive blow” to be generated by the coronavirus, that the PM has alerted us about, will be greatly determined by how we tackle the “inefficiency virus”. Already newspapers are replete with reports of rice meant for the poor being found in the houses of local leaders.For the task ahead, a whole new level of efficiency is called for. For that to happen, accountable structures which are flexible as well as effective need to be set up on two fronts — health and the economy. On the health front, we see daily how New York state first faltered and then geared itself up and is now fighting the coronavirus effectively. We see the state governor coming before the public, through the media, on a daily basis, telling the people whats going on and reassuring its citizens as to what needs to be done and what the government is doing. We will need a similar kind of mechanism of assurance and accountability.And for the economy, the immediate challenge is the judicious and quick distribution of the governments stimulus package. We never handled — never had the need to — such a huge amount of money to be injected into the economy in such a limited period of time. If not done with proper check and balance, a huge amount could be misused and misappropriated. The “inefficiency” bug has its takers who are waiting with drooping tongues to slurp up the cash incentives and send it abroad.We face the most challenging time and we need the most efficient government machinery we can possibly muster to handle it. Handling it as business as usual will be devastating.另一种致命的病毒:低效率这几十年来一直在毁灭我们Mahfuz Anam当我们被冠状病毒这一对我们的社会、健康和经济造成损害的幽灵所困扰时,还有另一种病毒几十年来一直在从内部摧毁我们——效率低下。随着我们采取一项又一项措施抗击全球大流行,低效率病毒的恶性机制几乎每天都在上演。有一个高效的总理——即使她最糟糕的批评者承认她工作非常努力——当她被一个没有问责制的体系所服务时,这是不够的,这个体系更多地给予了法律意义而不是绩效和人员,人们应该被分配职责而不是被服务。在4月7日对地区官员讲话时,总理警告说,如果我们看到它在世界上传播的趋势,它看起来就是一堆数字;如果我们收集学习其他国家的经验,我们可能会在4月份面临巨大的打击,我们将会收到这一趋势的报告。首相表达的一个巨大的打击与到目前为止反复发出的面对冠状病毒做好准备的信息形成了鲜明的对比。她提到了报告,这些报告如果被分享,会让我们对即将到来的打击有一个更清晰的了解。我们今天面临的严峻形势是众所周知的。但是我们准备好面对它了吗?虽然我们理解并赞赏总理的认真态度,但我们担心低效率病毒会使我们与冠状病毒的斗争变得困难和无效,在许多不幸的状况下,这甚至是致命的。让我们检查一下我们迄今为止的经历。至少我们没有注意到早期的警告。我可以接受这样一个事实:当中国是冠状病毒的爆发中心时,我们可以认为我们不会受到影响。但当它传播到意大利,并且有证据表明它是由旅行者携带的时候,我们依然允许从中国起飞的航班运行到3月28日。是什么让我们做出了这个令人费解的搬起石头砸自己的脚的决定?然后,当意大利成为欧洲大流行的中心时,我们竟然允许从欧洲回来的人——超过20万——走进孟加拉国。以安检的名义,机场里有的只是一把手持式温度检测枪。然后是检疫的惨败。与宣布的入境时百分之百隔离的政策(这被证明是一个笑话)相反,没有做好应对交通流量的准备。早些时候,当在中国留学的学生被空运回国时,他们必须通过一个组织良好的检疫程序。但是,当来自欧洲的回国人员大量涌入淹没了我们的机场时,机场设施被证明是非常不足的,因为糟糕的准备导致当局放弃了这个想法。接下来是最关键的错误,那就是没有做好充分准备的全家庭隔离。从欧洲返回的人,特别是从意大利返回的人,被允许带着当局的指令返回他们的村庄,留在自我隔离中,不考虑这是否可行,也不确保人们理解家庭隔离的含义。由于没有保存他们的手机号码(大多数归国人员或他们的亲属都有)和家庭住址的记录,这一错误进一步加剧。这排除了以后对他们进行监控的可能性。谢赫·哈西娜已经并将继续面临的低效率病毒是一种多方面的威胁,不一定局限于一群低效的官员。它最令人感觉脆弱的表现是缺乏协调——右手不知道左手在做什么。它存在于几乎所有政府级别—-部长之间、部长内部、各部的部门内部、部门内部,最后是管理这些部门的官员之间,因为他们更感兴趣的是确保协议和等级制度得到维护,而不是某项工作是否完成。我们卫生部门的运作方式很好地显示了缺乏协调能力和影响,部长本人公开表示不知道发生了什么事。在检测设备的准备、医院床位、呼吸机的可用性、医院医生的可用性、感染情况下在哪里报告、如果出现症状如何进行检测等方面,早期的说法和现实之间的差距在当局和公众之间造成了巨大的信任落差。政府服务缺乏问责制为低效率的滋生创造了另一个沃土。没有一个官员对政府政策或项目没有完全或在时间表内实施负责。除了极少数例外,大多数大中型项目——大型项目都有自己的动力——实际上从来没有按时完成。时间延长和成本增加是正常的,很少有人解释为什么,也没有人被追究责任和受到惩罚。对其中任何一个的初步调查都会发现,当国家机器批准每一个时间和成本超支的案例时,那么多的塔卡就这样被抽走了。另一方面,纳税人不得不为无法解释和不可接受的成本上涨买单。不管过去几个月的经历如何,真正的考验摆在政府面前。我们如何应对首相提醒我们的由冠状病毒引起的巨大打击,将在很大程度上取决于我们如何应对低效率病毒。报纸上已经充斥着关于在当地领导的房子里发现了为穷人准备的大米的报道。对于未来的任务,需要一个全新的效率考量。要做到这一点,就需要在卫生和经济这两条战线上建立既灵活又有效的问责结构。在健康方面,我们每天都可以看到纽约州是如何先摇摇欲坠,然后做好准备,现在正在有效地对抗冠状病毒。我们每天都看到州长通过媒体出现在公众面前,告诉人们正在发生的事情,并向公民保证需要做什么以及政府正在做什么。我们将需要类似的保证和问责机制。对经济而言,当前的挑战是明智而快速地分配政府的刺激计划。我们从来没有处理过——从来没有必要处理——在如此有限的时间内向经济注入如此巨额的资金。如果没有适当的检查和平衡,大量资金可能被滥用和挪用。低效率的错误让它的接受者们耷拉着长舌头等着把现金激励吞掉,然后送到国外。我们面临着最具挑战性的时刻,我们需要尽可能高效的政府机制来应对。一切照旧将是毁灭性的。

event_note 10月 17, 2022

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