Persson: “I don’t have any real answers”

Swedish prime minister Göran Persson was questioned on Thursday by the parliamentary constitutional committee's inquiry into the Swedish government's response to the tsunami disaster. He began his appearance by apologising for not realising from the beginning that a major catastrophe was unfolding in the Indian Ocean.

He reminded the committee that he had already said sorry to all those affected.

“For many, including myself, the tsunami was an unknown quantity,” he said.

Not until the Monday evening after the tsunami struck did the picture become clearer.

“I understand that for Swedes at the centre of the catastrophe this sounds inconceivable. But that’s how it was,” he said, pointing out that with hindsight it’s easy to see what information was right and what was wrong.

Göran Persson said he did not believe that another organisational structure would have worked any better and that there were also many aspects which worked well.

“I do, however, wish that we that we had practised more. That would not have saved lives but it could have lessened the worry and pain,” he said.

The committee’s chairman, the Moderate Party’s Göran Lennmarker, pressed the prime minister on his conversation with his most senior aide, state secretary Lars Danielsson. Lennmarker asked the prime minister if he was informed by Danielsson of an emergency report from the Ministry of Defence.

The report, which was timed at 6.28 on the morning of December 26th, stated that a seven metre high tidal wave had swept in over Phuket and that 20,000 Swedes were in the area. It also stated that the situation was serious and that Swedes could have been affected.

Persson denied that his state secretary had mentioned the contents of the report.

“Possibly Danielsson judged that I myself ought to have grasped that. There’s no reason for me to shoot him down for that.”

Göran Persson said he did not want to lay the blame for the delayed relief effort on anyone.

“There were certainly many human failings. But to say that X or Y had not what she should have done is not for me to say. I’m not going to point the finger at my colleagues,” said Persson.

Göran Persson’s own explanation for why it took so long for Swedish assistance to reach the region is that there was contradictory information, that the catastrophe had occurred in another time zone and that the government offices were operating on a reduced staff over the Christmas holiday. But the catastrophe’s scale ought to have acted as a counterbalance.

“So I don’t have any real answers,” he told the inquiry.

Persson thought that the information on Boxing Day had been poor and pointed out that in its evening news broadcast, Swedish Television had reported that two Swedes had died.

The Green Party’s Gustaf Fridolin asked the prime minister who was responsible for the fact that the ministerial cabinet was isolated and that heads of departments were not at work.

“That is a hypothetical question,” replied Persson.

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