After listening to the reports of the Bhuj earthquake disaster in the Gujurat District of India. I could not help but feel enraged at the tremendous and unnecessary loss of life. All too often people were killed due to shoddy construction of the buildings that they occupied. As with the recent disaster in Turkey, lack of proper reinforcement and substandard building materials commonly contributed to the structural collapses.
The statistics for Bhuj are staggering. 17,000 people are dead with another 600,000 homeless. Many more have yet to die from starvation or disease as the region goes through economic collapse. As usual, the International community is pouring money and assistance into the area. Sadly, a significant chunk of this aid will disappear into the pockets of corrupt administrators, officials and the contractors involved in the reconstruction. The thought that whatever is rebuilt will again be constructed to the same negligent and substandard levels is inconceivable yet inevitable.
For those who are unfamiliar with the Indian economy, it remains on of the most corrupt in the entire world. Mexico pales in comparison to the outdated and graft riddled economic infrastructure that the Subcontinent is saddled with. Like a millstone around the population’s neck, the featherbedding and bribery drag down any progress that the country tries to make.
I speak from personal experience in this matter. Not long ago I was involved in an attempt to start a manufacturing facility in Shimla, a city in the Shogi district of India. The regulations governing the importation of equipment and supplies literally strangle any effort at establishing new business. A prime example is the ferocious duty that must be paid on used equipment that is brought into the country. The tax approaches something on the order of 50% of the material’s value. The result is that, more often than not, companies are forced to bring in brand new capital equipment that is frequently left behind when the maze of bureaucratic regulations render the venture stillborn.
My recent correspondence with tiggrl of these boards only serves to confirm these lingering impressions. I cannot help but wish that there was some way to avoid a repetition of the Bhuj disaster when the next earthquake strikes the region. To that end I propose some solutions, for example:[ul]
[li]Construe large scale corruption as “Crimes Against Humanity” that are prosecutable in International criminal courts.[/li]
As the world’s political landscape increasingly tends away from large-scale warfare the International criminal court must readdress itself to other massive crimes against humanity. The vast scale of corruption in undeveloped countries often constitutes a form of mass murder when shortcomings in construction and oversight are bribed out of existence. Similar enforcement for criminal acts in the construction of large-scale pipelines, bridges or other structures that are capable of significant impact upon human life or the environment should qualify for these provisions as well.
[li]** Tie foreign monetary assistance to strict code adherence during reconstruction.[/li]
In order for countries to receive foreign aid when rebuilding after a disaster they must be bound to agreements stipulating their voluntary compliance with minimum uniform building codes. However much this may seem to be an intrusion upon a nation’s sovereignty, no country is bound or forced to accept outside economic aid. The necessity for qualifying recipients of financial assistance during reconstruction is repeatedly made obvious by the greatly magnified death tolls due to poor building practices. That the nations in question continue to suffer from endemic corruption all but assures future disaster when shoddy rebuilding is allowed to occur.
[li] Implementation and prosecution of felony criminal charges for circumventing code restrictions.[/li]
Countries must be willing to institute legal recourse and punitive statutes to deter imbedded corruption. Any unwillingness to do so, or an ineffectual effort to apply such laws when needed should be answerable in the International criminal courts. Members of a country’s judicial system that turn a blind eye to corruption should be subject to similar prosecution commensurate with those directly engaged in it. Provisions for unhindered extradition for international prosecution must be part and parcel of such legislation. Strict prohibitions of conflict of interest must be made as well to avoid nepotistic practices and cronyism. Open bidding and other financially transparent business practices must be mandated to limit the opportunity for violations.
[li] Third party confirmation of code compliance during and after reconstruction.[/li]
As with the oversight of elections in countries where Democracy’s advent is more recent, so should there be monitoring of internationally financed post-disaster reconstruction. Much of the millions of dollars currently flooding into India will be shunted into the pockets of corrupt officials. Skimping on the use of reinforcing materials will only guarantee that with the next inevitable earthquake the suffering and loss of life will begin all over again. The small extra cost of oversight will be saved tenfold in the avoidance of future death tolls and property losses. The regional economic repercussions alone vastly outweigh the cost of such monitoring.
[li] Large rewards for turning in corrupt officials, inspectors, suppliers and contractors.**[/li]
A small portion of International economic aid should be used to fund a pool that creates rewards for the reporting of corruption. Such incentives would give additional pause to those engaged in the circumvention of proper building codes. Similarly, a Universal Building Code should also be established to assure equal World-Wide application of the law in such matters.[/ul]
Reformation of corrupt practices must begin somewhere. The international community’s efforts to assist these areas are being bled by the parasites who continue to perpetuate the current system of graft and bribery. If measures are not taken we will effectively sustain these criminal practices through our collective inaction. However much these proposals seem like an attempt to dictate how another country shall conduct its internal affairs, untold millions of dollars disappear into these repeated efforts to improve the quality of life in disaster areas.
I welcome input and comments on these proposals. Please share your opinions as to whether foreign aid should be tied to construction code compliance in order to prevent corruption and loss of life.