Chawkbazar fire: Implementation of recommendations
Of course, the recent Chawkbazar fire which killed 71, injured some others and brought other negative impacts is certainly a painful adverse event. There were many incidents, accidents or dangerous occurrences like adverse events--specifically related to fire, explosions, road accidents, capsize of boat and launch, collapse of buildings, etc.--which led to heavy casualties in this country. Some other recent adverse events in Bangladesh are Nimtali tragedy in 2010, Tazreen Fashions factory fire in 2012, Rana Plaza collapse in 2013, Tampaco Foils fire in 2016, etc. Surely, adverse events occur in different countries and it is difficult to stop such occurrences altogether; however, there are ample rooms for reduction of chances of occurrences of such events and mitigation of potential impacts, especially through improvements of situations with adequately learning lessons from such events.
Certainly, learning lessons from past or mistakes is essential in the world of change. The term 'learning' that is indicative of both understanding and corrective actions is an ongoing process--not a one-time phenomenon--through which society, organizations, etc. continually improve. In the process of learning lessons, several steps especially analysis of problems (especially for identifying possibilities of improvements), planning corrective actions with recommendations, implementing recommendations and monitoring of implementation are very important.
Successful learning of lessons leads to continuous improvements in two ways: incremental and breakthrough. Incremental improvement is all about making small changes, whereas breakthrough improvement is indicative of large changes in process, method or practices. Though the first one is usually considered, any of the types may be prioritized depending on existing preventive and mitigating measures. Indeed, nothing is perfect but learning lessons can reduce imperfection with improvements in any system.
The vital concern is that such adverse events repeatedly occur in Bangladesh with heavy casualties (deaths and injuries), psychological trauma and loss of properties. Moreover, it is often criticized that lessons from adverse events are not learned. Behind repeated occurrences of adverse events, indeed, inadequate implementation of investigative committees' recommendations, which are made on the basis of analysis of adverse events, plays important and role. No doubt, reasons for inadequate learning of lessons--more specifically, inadequate implementation of recommendations--are many such as political, administrative and others. I will here comment on barriers to, and provide a few suggestions for, successful implementation of recommendations related to adverse events in Bangladesh.
Firstly, lack of political will and commitment is a significant challenge. Often, the primary reason for inadequate implementing recommendations is rendered as the lack of political will. On the contrafy, it is undeniable that strong political will and commitment played immense roles behind every successful implementation of recommendations in the country. In the implementation, political will is essential particularly for making relevant legal and policy changes (on some occasions), ending political interference in favour of any vested quarter responsible for ill-management of a system that leads to adverse events, empowering implementing departments for appropriate functioning, making corruption free from implementing government agencies, etc.
Political unwillingness may be for several reasons such as monetary and other benefits of political leaders, political affiliation or membership of vested quarters responsible for adverse events, more emphasis on electoral votes than safety, etc. As expected, many important recommendations do not see any light.
Secondly, relevant government department(s) is directly responsible for implementation of recommendations on mitigation actions and improvements. On many occasions, several related departments are involved with implementation process depending on the type of adverse events. With implementing departments, however, there are some significant concerns including lack of adequate institutional capacity (due to lack of adequate training and logistics), lack of effective coordination among different relevant departments, lack of good governance, unspecified and conflicting roles among different departments, political interference to the implementation, etc. Against officials involved with the implementation process, moreover, there are some criticisms including receiving of money and/or other forms benefits in exchange of relaxing rules and regulations. As expected, recommendations are not adequately implemented even if there are political will and commitment.
Thirdly, depending on the type of adverse events, implementation process necessitates for interconnectedness and interdependence of other actors including private organizations, non-government organizations and local community or people. However, there are many other-actors barriers such as lack of effective coordination among other actors, diverse perspectives and conflicts of interests among other actors, unwillingness or non-cooperation to change, resistance to change, etc. Recent protest of chemical businessmen to relocation of chemical warehouses from Chawkbazar may be considered a burning example of resistance. Indeed, other actors' unwillingness to change, which is for several factors such as possible economic loss, lack of available alternatives, less emphasis on safety issues and uncertainly and lack of sufficient incentives, is a considerable barrier to successful implementation. Consequently, initiatives for implementation of recommendations do not bring expected results on many occasions.
Fourthly, to successful implementation of recommendations, there are some other challenges including inadequate planning of implementation measures, lack of consistency, inadequate monitoring of implementation, lengthy bureaucratic process, insufficient relocation measures and improper perception of seriousness of problem of adverse events. Improper perception of seriousness of adverse events and consistency of actions are to be especially noted here. Lack of adequate perception may be due to the culture of negligence or normalization of adverse events, inadequate attention to data on adverse events or safety data, etc.
Inconsistent implementation may cause because of several reasons, including lack of effective mechanism for consistent management and inadequate public pressure. Indeed, public attention, which plays vital role in compelling government to take corrective measures due to occurrences of other events; on some occasions, consequently, authorities concerned may not feel any urge to implement recommendations effectively.
Undeniably, there are some concerns with recommendations. It is sometimes criticized that all recommendations do not reflect expected appropriateness mainly due to time-limits of investigation, biasness of investigators to victims, failure to capture broader picture of events, etc. and, moreover, some corrective actions are difficult to implement because of infeasibility components. Yet, there are reasonable and implementable recommendations which need to be implemented for learning lesions from past mistakes with improvements of existing situations, reducing chances of occurrence and saving lives and properties, despite the fact that implementation of reasonable recommendations does not guarantee for non-occurrence of adverse events altogether. Thus, various measures including providing of reasonable time for investigation and appointing experts capable of viewing events from a broader perspective may be very effective for generating reasonable and feasible recommendations for both incremental and breakthrough improvements depending on existing situations.
In order to effectively implement reasonable recommendations, it is undeniable that adequate emphasis needs to be given on strengthening institutional mechanism with some unavoidable measures including 1) creating an overall political environment feasible to implementation of reasonable recommendations; 2) actual empowerment of different related departments for appropriate functioning as per rules and regulations; 3) improving capacity of some departments (including civil and fire service) particularly related to dealing with various adverse events; 4) making implementation legally mandatory; 5) strengthened mechanism for effective coordination among different actors involved with the implementation process; and 6) securing good governance among all public departments.
In addition to the above measures, some other measures including follow-up reporting by media, watchdog role of civil society and generation of cooperation from all stakeholders may be very effective. In fact, follow-up reporting can significantly generate public attention and create pressure upon government and relevant authority for adequate implementation of recommendations with consistency. I think that only adequate implementation of reasonable recommendations can improve existing situations, reduce chances of recurrences of adverse events and make lives and properties safer as per expectations.
The writer is a freelance contributor