The 6 P's

Mon, 02 Nov 2009

While I was in the military, we had a saying: Prior planning prevents piss poor performance. The origins of this saying are unkown to me and may well have come from the civilian world, but I doubt that, given the military's penchant for acronyms.

Regardless, I never gave it much thought until recently. Seems prior planning is a US-centric or perhaps 1st-world centric thing. At least, I've noted not just a total lack of prior planning here, but almost a determined effort to make everything an emergency, even the most mundane things.

This morning, my wife was leaving for work. This is the start of a long string of Panamanian holidays that start with the Patriotic Holidays. Given that these holidays are the same year to year, you'd think government workers would know which days are holidays and which aren't. Last year, everyone was off at noon on the 2d, had the 3rd through 5th off, and were back to work on the 6th. This year the assumption of days off was the same, but official word hadn't come down (???).

Part of the "problem" was that only last week on Wed or Thur, President Martinelli signed off that the holidays were 3 and 4 Nov (only). So officially, the government is working all day 2, 5, and 6.

My wife came home at noon and said they were off at 5 p.m. and had to return to work on Friday the 6th. So much for executive decrees.

Now I'm not quite understanding how individual Ministries here can declare days at their leisure. And what does the Treasury do? Is the extra day off charged against their vacations? Supposedly, all government workers are equal. Looks like some are more equal than others. Or at least some get more "free" days off than others.

But worse than all that, how is it that government doesn't know until the last second when they're working and when not? The US official holidays are published years in advance (prior planning -- you can actually make plane reservations and all ahead of time). Not here. Only Christmas Day, Easter (and the holy week leading up to it) and Mother's Day (8 December - a sacred day for Panamanians) are known in advance.

Reminds me of the mess when public school was supposed to start. The kids had been out of since the beginning of January. They were scheduled to start back the second week of March. The last week of February everyone suddenly noticed that most of the school facilities in the country hadn't had needed repairs. In fact, most were unusable and unfit for occupation.

Huh? The day school started last year they should have known when school would be out and had contracts for anticipated repairs, then the day after kids hit the streets for summer vacation, work crews should have been hard at work. Nope, most work on school facilities started well after school was supposed to be in again. Incredible.

But this is just a reflection of what can be seen every day on the streets. On the InterAmerican Highway, they constructed left turn lanes. In the US, we pull into them, stay in them with our tires pointing straight ahead until it's safe to go, then turn. In fact, most of us don't even think about it.

Here, Panamanians (at least those that have never been outside of Panama in their lives) pull into the left turn lanes, but don't stop until their tires are turned into the oncoming lane, and often the entire front end of their car has incurred into the oncoming lane. Suicidally stupid, yes, but because they've never learned to think beyond their noses, they don't consider the disaster if someone hit them from behind and shoved them in front of the oncoming high speed tractor-trailer. Thinking ahead and considering the consequences isn't exactly something taught here. I rail against teachers whose teaching method is by rote. Actual thought seems to be abhorred by these educators.

I could go on, but to what point? A little observation goes a long way. This and more can be seen. And pointing it out just gets you blank looks -- complete lack of understanding. But hope prevails, even if it is a fool's hope.


The 6 P's

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