Tsunami committee slams ministers

The inquiry by the parliamentary constitution committee into the Swedish government's response to the tsunami disaster closed on Thursday with damning criticism of six ministers, including prime minister Göran Persson.

Chairman of the committee Göran Lennmarker said that the unanimity of its judgement “made the conclusions more significant”.

“It has been the biggest task in the committee’s history,” said Lennmarker.

Göran Persson was criticised for the serious failings in the allocation of responsibilities in the Government Offices in the event of inter-departmental crisis situations, and for the fact that no full scale emergency drills had ever been held.

The overall responsibility for these failings lay with the prime minister, said the committee.

Persson was also criticised for not having sought more actively to keep himself abreast of developments following the tsunami, especially given the information he had already been given by colleagues and through the media on December 26th 2004.

According to the committee, he ought to have quickly created a ministerial group on December 27th, when it was clear that what was happening could be a catastrophe for Sweden on the scale of the sinking of the Estonia.

Furthermore, Persson ought to have taken the initiative to get government approval to remove all financial obstacles to allow the various departments to do whatever they considered necessary under the circumstances.

Former foreign minister Laila Freivalds was responsible for the fact that the foreign ministry’s intelligence-gathering and information services did not work, as well as for the delayed and insufficient relief effort.

The committee pointed out that the embassy in Bangkok and the consulate in Phuket did not get the extra resources they required for the evacuation and medical transporting of Swedes.

Freivalds was also criticised for not having tried to get more information on Boxing Day, as well as for her failure to ensure that the government’s foreign services were prepared to deal with catastrophes abroad which affected Swedes.

Defence minister Leni Björklund was one of the best-informed ministers on December 26th. She therefore ought to have contacted the prime minister and the foreign minister, said the committee.

She should also have been more active in getting authorisation for the Swedish Rescue Services agency to set off for Thailand.

Along with Göran Persson, Björklund was lambasted for not having raised the issue of inter-departmental coordination before the tsunami catastrophe.

Health minister Ylva Johansson was criticised for going on holiday to the Canary Islands just a few days after the disaster struck. She was also responsible for the fact that the Ministry of Health and Social Affairs was not more actively involved in supporting the foreign ministry with medical relief.

Aid minister Carin Jämtin was the most active minister in the initial stages of the catastrophe work, but focused primarily on aid issues. Considering the information she had, it was not enough that she simply contacted foreign ministry civil servants on Boxing Day. She should have alerted the prime minister, the foreign minister and others in the cabinet, said the committee.

Finance minister Pär Nuder was also criticised, despite the fact that he was not one of the ministers called to testify before the parliamentary constitution committee. He was at fault for not issuing a government edict removing financial obstacles to any emergency relief work.

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TT/The Local