Middle-east Arab News Opinion | Asharq Al-awsat

Who is to Blame? | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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Here is another building that collapses! With every building that tumbles, bureaucratic mismanagement, the lack of supervision and negligence are exposed. The principles of architecture tell us that buildings do not collapse on their own, except as a result of earthquakes and natural disasters. As for manmade catastrophes, they come about because of carelessness, greed and ignorance. Individuals trust others when they believe an honest supervision and constant accountability are in place. They buy their food and drink, live in their homes and send their children to school and board planes and trains based on trust. Without it, people are wary the food might be rotten, and engines in need of maintenance.

The collapse of the building in Mecca earlier this week put the city under the spotlight because the location and occasion are embarrassing. Perhaps this disaster will set the rules for the future so that the building’s owner, who might have contravened planning permission, is not the only one held responsible. Instead, accountability will reach higher levels to include all those to blame for the negligence brought about by bribes or carelessness. The building’s collapse is proof of the breakdown of the hierarchy of responsibility. With every falling building, officials need to be responsible. Holding junior officials responsible will not suffice. While it might placate public opinion, holding high-ranking officials to account is what stops buildings from collapsing.

We all agree that buildings do not fall down on their own but there is undoubtedly a reason for the tragedy and the deaths of so many individuals. Responsibility means that the blood of those killed in the accident will not be shed with in vain. Those responsible must be punished. Responsibility also means that the owners of at risk buildings must realize they will be held to account in the future. The heads of municipalities will then realize they will also be punished if their agencies fail to do their duties.

The culture of responsibility is not a luxury. It sets the rules of the relationship between individuals and relates to rights and duties. Unfortunately, such rules are only applied in a minority of cases because the benefits of power is enjoyed by high ranking officials and the dangers of responsibility by those in lower ranks. In the end, no one is held accountable and fate is blamed. Twenty five years ago, a school building collapsed over its female students. The accident caused great sorrow and anger. Other incidents that followed also invoked feelings of rage and criticism. Because the school tragedy was a major incident, officials from all levels were held responsible. Smaller incidents are often forgotten and only junior officials are blamed, until another major catastrophe that captures the public’s imagination occurs.

Comprehensive accountability will uproot corruption and eliminate such practices as granting planning permission in dangerous locations or residential construction licenses without the appropriate documents. Without this culture of accountability, the probability buildings collapsing with their inhabitants inside will rise.