Local leaders in Haa are worried that public infrastructures being built with scarce national resources would not last to serve their purposes if technical monitoring does not improve.
Like other gewogs across the country, they have to rely on engineers based at the dzongkhag headquarters for monitoring and technical expertise on the construction of public infrastructure. They are concerned that without timely monitoring, the quality of infrastructure – an asset in the gewogs – would suffer.
Gups are questioning the effectiveness of decentralisation and significant budget allocation to the local government without experts to make the best use of it through quality monitoring. Dzongkhag engineers are bogged down with too many projects to look after. With more resources being handed down to LGs and more work being executed by community contractors, they certainly need the expertise to ensure quality infrastructure, whether it is roads, schools, or irrigation canals.
The concerns of the local leaders are pertinent given the long history of poor quality construction of public infrastructure. There are plenty of bad examples of how lack of monitoring has wasted scarce resources. The poor irrigation canals, roadside drainage systems, basic health unit structures, and our expensive roads, are good examples.
However, the question of the quality of construction is not only a rural problem. Even with adequate expertise, the quality of our home or building construction in urban areas is equally worrying.
The construction hiccups begin with the plans and drawings, this being a process that has no time frame. Then every house owner becomes an amateur builder, having to go through all the formalities, from the design of the house to recruitment of labour to purchase of materials to site supervision and the finishing touches.
That is why the process has evolved as it has. It is much easier to get an Indian “thrikhadar” to organise your labourers than to run from office to office to complete the formalities. Bhutanese contractors and private builders are resigned to paying extra “fees” to save time and money.
We all know that if you purchase your materials through the proper channels you will end up paying much more than if you leave it to a Jaigaon contact who will get you everything faster and cheaper, with minimal taxes paid. The builder is considered pragmatic if he allows himself to be advised on shortcuts and is alleged to have more money than brains if he decides to follow the rules.
There is some pragmatic wisdom in the view that there is only so much you can do in the third world. The budget is smaller and the equipment poorer, so the risks are greater. There is much less fuss made anyway if one knows the tricks of the business. Although Bhutan’s building rules prescribe quality material for Bhutanese constructions, suppliers in Siliguri know how the cheapest materials available are sent to Bhutan because that’s what many Bhutanese builders want.
With the end of lockdowns and the easing of labour and material imports, the construction sites in the towns have suddenly come alive. We are going to see a construction boom in the next few years. We can only hope that, in the rush to complete formalities and meet construction deadlines, we do not sacrifice quality.