Monday, 17 August 2009

Dealing with a future Morakot without the politics


Much criticism has been published in your pages of the Ma administration’s response to the disaster wrought upon southern Taiwan by Morakot. Naturally, much of this criticism has drawn attention to the implication that Taiwan’s central ideological dispute, which roughly parallels a north-south geographical divide, was a dispositional factor in determining the nature of the government’s response to Morakot.

I do not dismiss this view, but I would urge the people of Taiwan not to allow their resulting rancour to be transformed into “political capital” by the opposition movement. Political point scoring is a potentially fatal distraction from a rational attempt to address the practical problem of how best to manage this sort of disaster in the future. It is with respect to this problem that I should like to make some observations together with a suggestion for improvement.

The essential problem with the organisation of the disaster response has been the fact that resources are under centralised beaurocratic control. Difficulties in resource allocation and communication channels are precisely what one must expect from the inherently inefficient and blundering nature of government, quite irrespective of any ideological tension. Even if Morakot had befallen Taiwan during the last DPP administration, such problems would still have existed and that is because they are the natural consequences of trying to solve the problem of resource allocation by State beaurocracy. Who happens to be in charge of the beaurocracy is of far less importance than the removal of the beaurocracy itself.

A potentially better way of managing the impact of such disasters in the future is to replace the State beaurocracy’s control over allocating resources such as trucks, helicopters, search and rescue teams, food, water and medical supplies, with a private insurance model. Why not allow the citizens of each county to voluntarily fund a privately run insurance plan – not to replace the value of damaged property in cash terms – but to provide the necessary resources for disaster management and to take responsibility for the direction and management of this response?

This solution – the private insurance model – has several advantages over the current system. First, it allows for the development of much more finely honed communication channels and logistical organisation systems than does the current system of the military, central government and county governments all just shouting past each other. Second, because such an insurance model would have to emerge from the private sector, there would likely be structural incentives for the continuous improvement of logistical, communication and general organisational efficiency due to the presence of market competition – say, between insurers operating in different counties for example. Third, there could be no party political fallout from any future disaster with the resulting implication for rising political tensions across the island.

In short, a private insurance model could be a much more constructive way forward in respect of preparing for and dealing with such disasters as Morakot in the future.

(Sent: August 17th 2009. Published in the Taipei Times: Wednesday August 19th 2009)