Hopeless red tape the real ‘big stink’
That it should take an Express banner headline, “Big Stink”, to sound the alarm about conditions at T&T’s leading general hospital speaks unhappy volumes about public sector management and bureaucracy. For “Big Stink” captured the literally abominable stench of rotting human bodies contaminating the air in and around the Port of Spain General Hospital mortuary.
What the Express report covered was not an overnight development. Rather, it was the source of a complaint called to the attention of the authorities one week before.
Health Minister Fuad Khan expressed surprise that, as of last weekend, corrective action had not been taken. It had been precisely to eliminate the over-centralised focus on the Health Ministry that the regional administrative bodies had been established.
The Health Minister remains answerable to Parliament and to the country for all the health services. Specific authorities, however, with their respective bureaucracies, are charged with the day-to-day running of large, expensive, establishments.
As the mystery disappearance of an ultrasound machine from San Fernando General Hospital illustrates, what frequently applies is the proverbial rule of Murphy’s Law. That is to say, if anything can go wrong, it will.
Half a million dollars’ worth of high-tech equipment vanishes from one of the busiest public hospitals in T&T. At once, staff at various levels assume the all-too-familiar postures of see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil.
The machine is unlikely to be rusting in a scrapyard somewhere. But the taxpaying public, ultimate owners, are still to hear of investigations touching those to whom such stolen goods are most likely to be marketed.
Where bungling incompetence ends and brazen criminality begins the public must wait, in dimming hope, to find out.
Meanwhile, at the other general hospital up north, putrefying human remains produce such atmospheric pollution as to render areas nearby unsustainable for purposes of work. Minister Khan had assumed the refrigeration to have been fixed. This, it turns out, depends not on ministerial say-so, but on bureaucratic snail-crawling, indifferent to expeditiously making things happen.
Dr Khan voiced pathetic helplessness over the reeking human offal finally in a state requiring urgent disposal. “I had asked,” he said, “that the mortuary be repaired as an emergency measure... I am extremely surprised that it has not been done... It’s sad what has occurred and I hope to have it done as fast as possible.”
Little did he know. But by now the Health Minister should be keenly aware of the layers of unhelpful bureaucracy that lie in the way of having the needful accomplished, and in good enough time.
What the PoSGH “big stink” proclaims, however, is another example of the monstrous failures of the public administration machinery, that remains unfixed, government after government.
The specific agencies involved and those in charge must be held accountable for these shocking shortcomings and lapses.