Swedish government slammed in tsunami report

Göran Persson has been held personally responsible by an official inquiry for the failures in the Swedish government’s reaction to last year’s South Asian tsunami disaster, in which over 500 Swedes died.

The prime minister, who had managed to deflect most criticism onto foreign minister Laila Freivalds in the immediate aftermath of the catastrophe, came in for unexpectedly severe reprimand in the report:

“In the commission’s opinion, Prime Minister Göran Persson has the all-embracing responsibility for the government offices’ shortcomings in their handling of the consequences of the tsunami,” the report said.

As well as criticising the prime minister, the report published on Friday by a special commission slammed Freivalds for the fact that the foreign ministry had no mechanism for dealing with a major crisis.

The report recommends that the government set up a central crisis management unit at the foreign ministry for handling major disasters in the future. The unit would monitor events across the world and report back to the government.

“The unit already proposed by the government is insufficient,” said commission chairman Johan Hirschfeldt.

“More developed procedures for crisis management at the foreign ministry are needed,” he added.

It was unclear who was ultimately responsible for failures at the Foreign Ministry. The commission argues that Hans Dahlgren, cabinet secretary, ought to have taken a more active leadership role.

Laila Freivalds is criticised for failing to spread information about the catastrophe effectively among foreign ministry staff.

Responsibility for delays in arranging medical help for those hit by the disaster is shared between Mikael Sjöberg, state secretary at the health ministry, and health minister Ylva Johansson. They ought to have pressed more actively for action. The consequences of them failing to do so was increased physical and psychological suffering for victims and their relatives, the commission reported.

The report also says that important information that had been received by the foreign ministry was lost in the hours after the catastrophe. Information that reached the ministry’s switchboard did not reach the appropriate people in the government and incomplete information was therefore passed on to relatives, Hirschfeldt said.

The defence ministry had a duty office for emergencies that was scrapped in the summer of 2004, but which was ressurected at the time of the tsunami catastrophe on a private initiative.

The National Board of Health and Welfare waited three days before it took the initiative to provide medical help, as it was waiting for instructions from the foreign ministry, even though the foreign ministry did not have competence to provide such instructions, said Hirschfeldt.

The report was received by finance minister Pär Nuder shortly before a 9am press conference.

“I have received the commission’s report and passed on the government’s thanks to the commission members for taking on this heavy responsibility.”

“The commission’s report will now be studied and analysed carefully by the government.”

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TT/The Local