Saturday, June 1, 2013

We are a nation without Plan B

Energy Minister Pongsak Ruktapongpisal says the May 21’s power blackout in all 14 southern provinces was “unavoidable.” He put the blame on a natural occurrence: lightning striking a high-voltage transmission line that supplied power to the South.

Then came the warning from energy officials that because of the lack of power plants, a similar breakdown of power on a regional scale could hit the Northeast and even the capital, Bangkok.

The two official explanations – technical and natural accidents – obviously don’t answer the crucial question: Where was Plan B?

Even if we were ready to accept all the official reasons cited for the country’s worst power breakdown, there is still no guarantee that a repeat of the scary “Southern Total Blackout” would not take place.

It’s even more frightening when you suddenly discovered that Thailand had always been in such a vulnerable situation. All the “what if” questions immediately surfaced. What if some terrorists had detected the “power vulnerability” of the country’s energy supply system? What if lightning had struck in other parts of the country at the same time. What if a “human error” had added to the “technical trip-up?” What if the total blackout had taken place on an election evening?

Let’s assume we accept all the explanations given so far by the government:

- Power produced in the South doesn’t meet the local demand.

- The incident was not part of a conspiracy to stage incidents to support the policy of building coal-fired power plants.

- The blackout wasn’t related to the energy minister’s earlier warning of a widespread blackout because a natural gas facility in Myanmar that supplies Thailand’s power plants was under maintenance.

- The blackout wouldn’t have been so widespread had it not been for the fact that the system was running on a automatic mode. Had the system been handled manually, the power failure would have been on a more limited scale.

Still, the main question remains: Where was the “contingency plan” and where did the buck stop?

No heads have rolled so far. Accountability doesn’t appear to be high on the political agenda.

The national malaise of the lack of “Plan B” affects not only the energy sector that this particular incident has underscored. It pervades the whole political and social spectrum. And that’s the main reason why we have been stuck in the mud for so many years.

There is no “contingency plan” for a country caught in a conflict that has plunged the country into an abyss from which we have yet to emerge. We now hear calls for “going for broke” from the ruling politicians to ram through the constitutional changes and an amnesty bill that have stirred new controversies.

The ruling elite have Plan A to get what they want. We aren’t sure what would happen if the “going-all-the-way” strategy backfired, triggering a “political blackout” that covers the whole country. In that case, it would not be possible to put the blame on a natural occurrence such as lightning. There is no Plan B to avoid a potentially disastrous confrontation.

The government’s controversial and highly expensive rice pledging scheme has been a glaring Plan A to “raise the living standards of poor farmers.” Now, despite the fact that the plan has floundered and could incur the tax-payers huge losses, there is no “contingency plan” to beat a tactful retreat. There has never been a Plan B either.

Before the next disaster, be it energy, political or superstitious issue, strikes, we badly need a Plan B in place for every major endeavor in the country.

The risk of being unceremoniously hurled from Plan A to chaotic Plan Z is simply too high to be acceptable.

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