A PARLIAMENTARY committee heard this week it was “pure luck” that more people hadn’t been killed in the devastating storms that struck the Paphos area last month, when flash floods swept a married couple to their deaths.
The committee heard that the specific drainage system for the Kissonerga river, which broke its banks leading to the tragedy, was inadequate for such a flow of water. At eight inches wide, the conduit built for the river in the 1980s was not designed for such an unprecedented deluge.
But the Paphos Water Development Department was understandably keen to spread the blame: the public also had a great share of responsibility, a spokesman said. Private landowners were building illegally and blocking drainage channels without town planning permission; locals were using dry river beds as rubbish tips, blocking drainage when the water did begin to flow.
This is all true, but it’s a bit rich to blame the public. The public will do whatever it can get away with. It is the role of the state to impose order, not just to sit back and expect responsible behaviour.
So, somebody is guilty of illegal construction: tear the offending structure down and fine the guilty party. Do it once, do it twice, and you can be sure the public will jump through hoops in order to secure proper planning permission before undertaking any building work. People are throwing rubbish in the riverbed? Don’t just wring your hands and deplore the situation, blaming the public when the river overflows. Provide proper disposal facilities (often severely lacking in rural areas) and then come down hard on people illegally dumping their old washing machines and fridges.
Government, national and local, is not just about a fancy title, an official car, and an endless resource of patronage. It is about responsibility, it is about providing the framework for a civilised society to operate within the rule of law.
For years, those in authority have shrugged their shoulders and turned a blind eye to a myriad of illegalities, from the pettiest of parking offences to the most massive violations of planning regulations. They can’t now blame the individual for having succumbed to a culture of lawlessness.
Outside Utopia, responsibility starts from the top. Left to their own devices, few in society look beyond their immediate self-interest, or at best that of their family or closest friends. That is why we need a framework of law and enforcement to ensure order prevails over the law of the jungle.
We have plenty of laws, but shockingly lax enforcement. Until the day that changes, the blame for tragedies such as those of last month lies squarely on the shoulders of the state.
Copyright © Cyprus Mail 2006