Besides impacting livelihood and battering the economy, the Covid-19 pandemic had sent many Bhutanese behind bars for coming into conflict with the rules and laws put in place to control the spread of the disease. Some unfortunate ones even received 15 years imprisonment term. Many are yet to be sentenced and some will be taken to court soon.
Law practitioners have already questioned the legality and lack of uniformity in the application of laws related to the breach of Covid-19 protocols. What is happening in Gelephu is only aggravating the existing anomalies in the law to the extent that people are questioning the lack of seriousness and the double standard in the application of laws.
With many people questioning the need for the seven-day quarantine when they have to travel to low-risk areas, the Gelephu incident exposed how people ‘with connections’ could bypass the mandatory quarantine. Without any accountability fixed on officials who helped the businesswoman avail the travel documents without staying in quarantine, is only making matters worse.
Lack of transparency on whether lapses were corrected forced people to doubt if the dzongkhag taskforce is serious in its fight against the pandemic.
The incident commander of Sarpang dzongkhag and superintendent of police in Gelephu cannot shy away from the responsibility to inform the people who are waiting and watching. People deserve to know why no one is being held accountable and how the lapses are fixed.
In times of crisis like this, suspicion should be the last thing in people’s mind. It is important that citizens know how officials ensure such things do not happen again.
Fixing accountability has been our biggest weakness and it will cost the nation dear in times of pandemic. Accountability here would mean holding officials who misused authorities liable for their action.
The Prime Minister last night acknowledged that there were lapses and apologized to the nation. However, the apology was on how systems had failed or couldn’t keep up with the needs demanded by the pandemic. The general public is likely to forget or forgive when it is not known who to blame or who had faltered in their duties. But questions would remain when they know who is accountable and who had failed to do their duty.
This is because people will not forget how some were being penalised for walking to their homes when they did not have anyone to stay with in Thimphu during the lockdown or for trying to help a thirsty son and returning home to not miss school.
It has also come to light how section 410 and 448 of the Penal Code are applied inconsistently to those who breached the Covid-19 protocols, as some people are just charged for breaching one section while others are charged for both although the offences are similar in nature.
It was made known that rules should not differentiate during a pandemic. But as we relax the lockdown, there are talks of how many had managed to get around rules, with or without permission.