The collapse of the Kuri-Gongri bridge just weeks after it was erected back following a similar event saw hundreds of people, praying for the souls of the two people who lost their lives. There was an equal number of people crying to fix accountability on whoever is responsible for the tragedy.

The government in its interaction with the media said that investigations are still on. It would be unreasonable to think that an investigation into such a nature would be completed in just three days.

Definitions of accountability usually vary depending on the agency or industry doing the defining. In general, accountability is taking responsibility for a particular action and goals set. And in the case of the Kuri-Gongri bridge collapse who do we paint as the ones responsible? It is tricky! However as the bridge collapsed after it was initially restored, fingers are pointed to those involved in the resurrection of the bridge. Who are they? They would be site engineers, mechanics, skilled and unskilled workers. It is difficult to pick out one individual, especially at this juncture when the investigation has not yet been completed. Sacking the site engineer now for instant would not be what accountability means, for there are other factors at play. If investigations reveal that there had been technical lapses, it would then be fair to hold technical experts involved to account.  

The general practice is to immediately hold leaders to account.

It happens and we have witnessed the same in Bhutan, too. But is it right? We dream of a world where accountability evokes positivity and productivity. On the other side, it can evoke anxiety, which can manifest as frustrating roadblocks, a lack of leadership buy-in, and staff pushback. In our lingo, no one will want to “take the risks.” This is a standard tool used by civil servants to smear organizations like the Anti Corruption Commission (ACC) and more frequently the Royal Audit Authority (RAA). If you are close to civil servants, you would not miss hearing that due to the “memos” issued, no one wants to “take risks.” Engineers have to tell contractors to blacktop roads even in the monsoon as there will be “audit observations,” though they are aware that there would be no outcome.

Coming back to Kuri-Gongri; if investigations expose those guilty beyond reasonable doubt, the case can even be labeled involuntary manslaughter. If it is found out that there were quality compromises, those responsible should be booked.

The practice of holding leaders accountable immediately is sometimes a political stunt. It is also a reminder to everyone that there is no room for complacency. In other words, such practices are in place to ensure that all are on their toes and that mistakes are neither made nor tolerated. In this top-down approach, everyone is constantly reminded of the fatalities if someone should commit a blunder.

Nonetheless, the government ought to give something to the public. If not for any reason, for the fact that people learn from what has happened.