The recent partial U.S. government shut-down threatened to bring the U.S and world economies to their knees. Caused both by a political crisis that would have been easily resolved through dialogue and an outdated policy, it ranks as one of the most ridiculous events in American history. Of course, the U.S. government is not the only one that has had to deal with embarrassing crises, controversial decisions, or insane policies. Here are the top 10 government decisions as stupid as the American government shutdown.
10 South Africa: Secrecy, E-voting and Nkandla gate
Number 10 on this list goes to the South African government. The ANC party in South Africa enjoys firm support from many politicians in government. You would therefore be tempted to think there is a very low chance of a stalemate such as the one witnessed in the U.S recently. Of course, that isn’t the case. Some government initiatives have proved to be so unpopular that they have resulted in embarrassing climb-downs.
Take the secrecy bill, which threatens whistleblowers and journalists with a 25 year prison term. It sparked embarrassing opposition in government among members of the same party. Another embarrassing step was the e-voting system that was supposed to be introduced, but was heavily opposed by the very same members who were thought to support it when it entered the public domain. In the end, the government lost $3.6 billion. The Nkandla gate also caught headlines recently, when Zuma’s government spent public funds ($28 million) to renovate his private country estate.
9 Kenya: International Criminal Court cases against current president and his deputy
Some other African governments have also had their fair share of embarrassing decisions. The most notable is Kenya’s ICC cases against the current president and his deputy. Back in 2007, Kenya was rocked by post-election violence. Top politicians had to take responsibility for the crimes against humanity that were committed. At the time, the current president and his deputy were members of parliament, and voted to forward the cases to the International Criminal Court instead of handling the cases internally. Fast-forward to 2013, when the current president and his deputy are being charged for crimes against humanity. Conveniently, they now want Kenya to cease being an ICC signatory.
8 South Korea: Annual parliamentary brawl
In South Korea, the government has also had its fare share of embarrassment in terms of decision making. A crisis such as a looming government shutdown would easily trigger a serious brawl in South Korea's parliament. South Korea has an annual parliamentary brawl treated like a rite of passage for politicians, usually triggered by angry politicians who are upset with national spending. Past brawls have seen sledgehammers and fire extinguishers used creatively in parliamentary buildings in an effort to solve government problems. Traditional for South Korea, but strange for the rest of the world.
7 United Kingdom: Scruffy Grassgate
The poll tax nightmare is not the only bad/embarrassing decision that the UK government has made. Just recently (in 2011), south west London’s Merton Council faced spending cuts amounting to $110 million, putting a historic strain on resources. Naturally, the council was able to find the time and money to protect a two by three foot patch of grass. The incident, which became known as "Scruffy Grassgate," was widely mocked in the UK and abroad.
6 United Kingdom: Poll tax nightmare
Another entry comes courtesy of the United Kingdom. Back in 1987, the government, then led by Margaret Thatcher, introduced a new tax known as the poll tax, intended to meet the cost of community services offered in local jurisdictions. When the levy was rolled out, UK citizens were not pleased. The public reaction resulted in Margaret Thatcher’s downfall and a great deal of destruction in central London. In short, the government’s decision achieved the exact opposite of what it intended.
5 European Union's Bailout of Cyprus
It's widely thought that European policy makers have made many bad decisions in an attempt to deal with the debt crisis, however the Cypriot bailout debacle takes the day as one of the worst decisions European policymakers have made. Back in March of 2013, Cyprus was on the verge of collapsing, and the Cypriot government requested a $23 billion rescue package from the EU. Although Germany was against the deal, Cyprus received $13.5 billion from the EU. The rest was to be raised by taking a portion of the bank savings of ordinary citizens. It was a done deal according to EU and the Cypriot government, however Cypriot citizens were horrified. They decided to vent their anger on the streets, igniting another crisis.
4 China: Overreacting to Liu Xiaobo’s Nobel Price
Always questionable, the Chinese government managed to make a particularly stupid decision recently. When Liu Xiaobo (a renowned human rights activist and writer) won the 2010 peace prize, Beijing could have chosen to handle the matter quietly. Instead, the government decided to take on Norway by openly berating a Norwegian diplomat, publishing editorials condemning Liu Xiaobo’s win, cutting off salmon imports, as well as bullying other countries to boycott the award ceremony. In the end, the Chinese government only succeeded in making the situation worse, looking repressive, petulant and tone deaf.
3 China: The Four Pest Campaign
Another embarrassing decision from the People's Republic. In the 1960s and 70s, the Chinese government decided to initiate many destructive policies under its then leader Mao Zedong. One such policy, The Four Pest Campaign, touched on getting rid of rats, flies, mosquitoes and sparrows. Citizens were instructed to shoot birds, as well as bang pots & pans to keep sparrows from landing. Although Mao’s intentions were good (he wanted to preserve food), the effects were devastating. Over 2 billion birds were killed, resulting in a drastic increase in the population of locusts. This in turn caused one of the greatest famines in Chinese history.
2 Myanmar: Government reconfigures local currency to suit a lucky number
Most Myanmar citizens over 40 years old know that nine is the lucky number of their longest running strongman, Ne Win. In 1987, the Myanmar government decided to take the lucky number theory to the next level by introducing a law that required all cash notes to be divisible by 9. This law left only 2 notes in circulation: the 45 and the 90. Of course, all other bills becoming worthless had huge consequences, and led to many people becoming bankrupt overnight.
1 North Korea: Ordering more nukes on the brink of starvation
The North Korean Government tops this list due to its making one of the most mind-bogglingly stupid decisions in history: choosing to buy nuclear weapons instead of using the money to feed starving civilians. Although those concerned in the decision making could have argued that they were forced by circumstances because of current trade sanctions against the North Korean government, allowing an entire country to starve is in no way justified by a lust for acquiring nuclear weapons.