The re­solve to re­mem­ber is the key to ac­count­abil­ity

The China Post - - COMMENTARY -

Ac­count­abil­ity is an oft-heard word af­ter a ter­ri­ble tragedy. Un­for­tu­nately, ac­count­abil­ity and the sub­se­quent search for re­spon­si­bil­ity too of­ten are sought only af­ter a large-scale in­ci­dent has al­ready oc­curred.

Blame is a po­tent cat­a­lyst when mixed with pain and anger, and it of­ten com­man­deers the forms of ac­count­abil­ity that hold our so­ci­ety to­gether ev­ery day, even be­fore dis­as­ters oc­cur, whether they are caused by hu­man fac­tors or nat­u­ral calami­ties.

For hun­dreds of vic­tims, the hor­rors of last Satur­day’s fire will never sub­side. They will face an ar­du­ous heal­ing process that will long sur­pass the public mem­ory of the event, the losses in ac­count­abil­ity, the scram­ble to as­sign blame, the words of pun­dits and politi­cians, the pre­dictable shout­ing and the fin­ger wag­ging. The bur­den of ac­count­abil­ity rests in at­ten­tion, and our at­ten­tion is taxed.

Taxed by the 24-hour news cy­cle that over­loads our senses; taxed by the same ver­bal ac­ro­bat­ics that leave us hang­ing on words both spo­ken and un­spo­ken. Yet the ques­tion re­mains: Will we re­mem­ber enough to en­gage our elected of­fi­cials when they con­tinue to present us with po­lit­i­cal pol­icy plat­forms de­void of de­tails? Or will we sim­ply swal­low the bit­ter pill and le­git­i­mate the rule of of­fi­cials who stand un­ready to ac­count for the cit­i­zens they pur­port to pro­tect?

As a re­minder, we should try to co­her­ently re­call what the gov­ern­ment is do­ing to ad­dress the fol­low­ing is­sues, in­clud­ing but not lim­ited to:

— Avi­a­tion safety, in­clud­ing ad­e­quate pi­lot rest time and equip­ment safety

— The ed­u­ca­tion sys­tem, in­clud­ing school safety and cur­ricu­lum re­form

— Energy pol­icy and the fu­ture of nu­clear power waste) and fea­si­ble al­ter­na­tives

— The over­ca­pac­ity of our pris­ons and the trans­parency of the en­tire pe­nal sys­tem — Food safety and mis­lead­ing nu­tri­tional guide­lines — So­cial in­equal­ity, in­clud­ing the ris­ing gap be­tween rich and poor, the in­sti­tu­tion of a liv­ing wage and rea­son­able cor­po­rate tax­a­tion — Hous­ing jus­tice for the work­ing pop­u­la­tion — The sus­tain­abil­ity of our pen­sion sys­tem for com­ing gen­er­a­tions

— Health care re­form and the sus­tain­abil­ity of ex­ist­ing funds

— Trans­parency in our armed forces chain of com­mand fol­low­ing the Apache in­ci­dent

— Trans­parency of trade agree­ments and re­gional eco­nomic ar­range­ments — Wa­ter and nat­u­ral re­source preser­va­tion Taken to­gether, this list may jar the mind, but many are long-stand­ing prob­lems that have po­ten­tial “tick­ing bomb” char­ac­ter­is­tics if not ad­dressed. And upon closer ob­ser­va­tion, we can con­nect the lack of ac­count­abil­ity on many of these is­sues with a mode of short-term think­ing that is driven by the sin­gle-minded pur­suit of profit and con­ve­nience.

Taken to­gether, these is­sues may not have fallen off our men­tal grids com­pletely, but they cer­tainly have waned in public dis­cus­sion due to a va­ri­ety of fac­tors. An abun­dance of rain for in­stance might have tem­po­rar­ily availed us of drought-like con­di­tions, but it still does not pre­clude the need to ad­dress wa­ter us­age and ex­ist­ing wa­ter in­fra­struc­ture.

Each of these is­sues re­quires ac­count­abil­ity on the part of spe­cial­ists, but they also need to in­clude a di­a­logue with the pop­u­la­tions they af­fect. For too long we have al­lowed pol­icy cir­cles that only dish out ac­count­abil­ity when a dis­as­ter hap­pens to reign free with­out ac­tual ac­count­abil­ity sys­tems be­ing ex­plained and eval­u­ated.

In­stead of wait­ing for spe­cial in­ter­ests and cor­po­ra­tions to dic­tate the terms, and in­stead of merely an­tic­i­pat­ing our elected of­fi­cials to con­tinue talk­ing past each other dur­ing po­lit­i­cal de­bates with their sound­bites, we can start our­selves by con­sid­er­ing how our so­ci­ety can ben­e­fit in cre­at­ing im­proved aware­ness on these is­sues.

Let us write the new book on ac­count­abil­ity on these is­sues to­gether. Af­ter all, it may be the best way to honor those who have suf­fered need­lessly, by remembering that there is some­thing we can do to pre­vent such tragedies from oc­cur­ring again.

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