Plans A to Z can't fit all crises

Editorial | Mary Ma 19 Sep 2018

The chief executive insists there was no mechanism or legal basis for her to declare a holiday for all workers despite the serious damage inflicted by Super Typhoon Mangkhut, as the government could only shut down schools.

That's pure hogwash on Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor's part.

If that's the case, what else could she do if the next typhoon hitting us is more powerful and destructive than Mangkhut? Would her hands again be tied because of the absence of mechanism and legal basis?

That's totally off point. Will employers sue the administration because of this? They wouldn't be so stupid because it's extremely expensive to fight the government, and judges won't sympathize with them.

The matter has nothing to do with the law - rather it's about crisis management in the wake of an evolving situation.

Inside government file cabinets are a number of contingency plans dealing with different scenarios. But it doesn't mean the officer in charge can stand still not knowing how to react immediately if what happens doesn't fit into any of the scenarios.

Lam's claim of an absence of a legal basis or mechanism helped to divert attention from the issue - and amazingly, politicians whipping up political capital off commuters' anger fell into the trap unwittingly, with some saying the Emergency Regulations Ordinance could be invoked, and others proposing a new law be written to give the chief executive the power.

Those politicians must be naive if not simple.

It was unnecessary for Lam to degrade herself to be a punching bag since the line of accountability was clear. Wouldn't the transport commissioner be the first to be blamed, followed by the security secretary?

Both should have realized the gravity of the situation as soon as bus companies told the Transport Department all their vehicles couldn't get anywhere as a result of fallen trees and the MTR Corporation had to suspend part of its East Rail service due to damaged power cables and obstructed tracks.

Perhaps the government had never expected such occurrences to happen all at once and so was caught flat footed since prescribed contingency procedures were no longer valid.

I can imagine that officials were tuned to standard responses as the Hong Kong Observatory lowered the typhoon signals, and were unable to think out of the box quickly enough to switch to a genuine crisis management mode.

The earliest warning signs came when buses couldn't leave depots and rails were damaged. As soon as that became clear, it was also the moment for officials to look beyond their readied plans for alternatives to deal with the new and emerging crisis.

Secretary for Security John Lee Ka-chiu is now saying he will conduct an interdepartmental review next month, which is again not the point. The government is full of contingency plans, but needs someone who is able to sense a crisis, and has the guts to jump into action when it's still manageable.

After the storm, cleaners toiled to clear drains and mop up streets. Various citizens - including students - volunteered to collect debris from damaged seafronts.

They were the unsung heroes - not the complacent and overpaid government officials.

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