Questions of Accountability
“In recent times, we have experienced a litany of failings from people at the top in public life,” says Graham Archer. “Is this the fault of a system that tolerates poor standards…or is it our fault for not demanding better?”
I had occasion recently to visit an elderly patient in one of our large inner city hospitals.
While I was there, her tea arrived. On the tray was a cup of tea, a few slices of bread, butter and two metal bowls, each one containing something that, to put it mildly, looked quite inedible.
One was a barely warm, soup-like substance that a 5-year old child might describe as ‘yuk’, lumpy in its consistency, and with a layer of skin on top. Next to it, in the other bowl, was a bland, off-white, custard-like concoction that was offered as desert.
Examining these two culinary offerings, I couldn’t help but wonder if the reason for the patient’s loss of weight and poor appearance might be due, in part, to the fact that she had cut back on her food intake.
On my journey home, I listened to radio news reports concerning a HIQA inspection carried out at a Mayo care home. There, inspectors found that “mealtimes were not a pleasantexperience” …and that “some meals sampled were served cold, having been left on an unheated trolley”. Bring that, I thought, to the attention of those hospital managers who are responsible for the health and welfare of those who occupied the ward I had visited.
Setting this experience aside, the real questions that bother me centre around the standard of management and oversight that one should expect from officials in the public sector generally.
Presuming they were fit for purpose in the first place, it is clear that many are falling down when it comes to managing the tasks assigned to them. In the case I myself experienced, failures could be seen, not in some remote, out-of-the-way care home, but in a bustling city-centre hospital that one imagines is managed by a six-figure income earner.
Why is it that people at the top in public life are often willing to settle for less than best – rather than address matters in a professional manner? Using the hospital meals example, why is someone not posted in the kitchen, overseeing menu choice and refusing to allow swill be served to patients?
In recent times, we have experienced a litany of failings. Mention the words ‘financial regulator’ and you have a metaphor for everything that needs mending.
As I write, a former politician is doing time for expenses irregularities that, apparently, were so obvious that a national newspaper could detect them – but which escaped the gaze of those charged with overseeing such matters.
What is it in our culture that allows such situations to persist? Is it the fault of a system that tolerates poor standards? Or is it our fault for not demanding better?
The recent cabinet reshuffle is a case in point. Was there a person alive within the country who did not pray that the very finest team of ministers would be appointed to manage the challenges that confront us?
And what did we get? In one notable case, we saw abject failure being overlooked. In another, loyalty to the leader was quoted as reward for an appointment.
Too often did we hear the word ‘geography’ being cited as the reason why appointments should be made – and too shrill was the cry that said half them should have gone to women…not because they’d be good, but only because they were female. Never mind that any of them – male or female – would be capable of carrying out their tasks. As long as they lived in the right place or walked to work in high heel shoes; that would be sufficient.
Well, those arguments don’t wash with me. Success in government is not predetermined by the town one lives in or by the sex of those who sign the letters. It matters only that people have the talent, the judgement, the skill, the interest, the drive, the foresight, the goal-setting ability, the management skills, the determination and the communications ability required to motivate staff and bring the public along with them.
Until that change happens, sick people can make do with the gruel given to them in the name of food!