As technology empowers business, governance, and democracy affecting every life and livelihood Bhutan, policies promote national digitization, exemplified by the recent National Digital ID. However, increased dependence on technology necessitates accountability for failures. Life-critical systems, such as communication networks, and everyday conveniences, like phones, banking, public services depend on quality hardware and software; glitches can disrupt well-being. Those responsible for the rollout and maintenance must take ownership of mistakes instead of shifting blame. People’s trust and national progress rely on competent tech leadership and a willingness to take responsibility.

For example, this week, the Bank of Bhutan failed to deposit salaries on time for thousands of civil and public servants. Some responses from the bank and ministries seemed to absolve them of accountability, as if working without pay was expected. More worrying is the common practice for government agencies, public institutions, and banks to cite “technology failures” when services are disrupted, waiving accountability. Yet, consumers see no such leniency. Despite banks issuing loans based on salary amounts, employees still face penalties if salaries are delayed, and they default on payments. When a bank or Bhutan Power Corporation or telecom systems fail, consumers may endure waits for hours or even days with no redress. However, if a consumer even minutes late on a payment faces consequences. As agencies and banks increase technology-driven processes, this double standard around accountability for failures must end. Responsible systems need backup plans for disruptions, and contrasting consumers for shortfalls beyond their control seems unjust and detrimental. Balance is essential – blanket waived accountability for service providers while strictly mandating it for consumers, often over failures neither control, needs redress.

A European study found that technology implementation often fails due to inadequate planning, training, testing, resources, governance, and risk assessment. Specifically, lack of rollout and adoption planning, insufficient IT skills and knowledge, poor-quality testing, data migration issues, leadership confusion around roles and accountability, poor stakeholder involvement, over-complex designs hampering functionality and usability, dysfunctional management, and deficient contingency measures were key factors. A scholar drew an analogy to a builder – if faulty construction causes property damage or loss of life due to negligence, the builder faces severe penalties. It was argued that technology failures should be treated similarly rather than tolerated – those responsible should pay the costs to rectify problems arising from avoidable system defects. With proper safeguards and accountability around technology training, planning, and governance, adverse impacts on productivity and welfare can be mitigated. Just as the quality of a building depends on the sound work of construction crews, the successful operation and adoption of technology depends on the proficient teams implementing it within organizations.

 His Majesty has stressed accountability as Bhutan adopts emerging technologies like AI and blockchain, which bring immense potential but also risks. He stated that with any system failures, leaders must take responsibility rather than shift blame. Despite this, there is little evidence of accountability for tech leaders regarding disruptions. As innovations require professionalism and contingency planning to avoid glitches affecting services, accountability is critical.

As His Majesty said, being a nimble and unencumbered small nation allows us to outpace larger counterparts. We must embody “intelligence, flexibility, responsiveness, dynamism, and efficiency.” These traits must reflect in technology-driven governance. The legislature needs to formulate comprehensive laws holding technology failures accountable, fostering responsible practices. This proactive approach prevents avoidable technical glitches, ensuring proper care and oversight.

Sonam Tshering

Lawyer, Thimphu

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are author’s own.