Hiding poor construction under natural disasters

Whenever some natural disaster or even heavy weather hits Bhutan, there are almost always reports of damages to public infrastructure whereby the damage is ascribed almost entirely to the disaster.

However, the Royal Audit Authority in its performance audit on Disaster Management from 2010-2015 says more often it has to do with lack proper planning, design and workmanship in construction.

The RAA found this on verification of construction activities carried out under disaster funding or funds given to repair damages done by disasters. It said that as a result the government incurred huge expenditure leading to wastages and inefficiencies.

It was observed that agencies had comfortably attributed all construction failures to disaster and requested for additional funding under disaster budget.

The report says that despite flaws in planning, design and ill-timing of construction, the authorities had not verified the cause of the construction failures but had insisted on additional funding to re-construct those infrastructures.

While agencies submitted budget proposals to the Ministry of Finance under disaster funding the ministry did not have adequate measures in place to verify whether the damage to infrastructure was genuinely due to natural disasters or due to some man-made factors.

The report gave some examples of such activities.

The Dzongkhag administration in Trashigang had constructed a retaining wall for the expansion of the football ground in Trashigang Middle Secondary school at a cost of Nu 2.08 mn in 2012. However, following the complete collapse of the wall reportedly due to heavy rainfall an additional amount of Nu 37.10 mn was approved for re-construction of the same wall.

Again under Trashigang a bailey bridge had been constructed over the Merak Ama river at a cost of Nu 12.41 mn in 2013. After 10 months in October 2014 the bridge was found to be defective and unusable and currently barred from public commuting.

While the defective works was apparently due to lack of proper feasibility study, design, monitoring and supervision of work, it was again attributed to natural disaster and the budget was approved by the MoF for reconstruction of bridge at the same location.

A retaining wall at Dratshang, Pemagatshel was constructed in 2012 at a cost of Nu 8.9 mn. However, the wall could sustain only till monsoon and collapsed in July 2012. Later the wall was reconstructed at an additional cost of Nu 3.7 mn.

The Dzongkhag administration of Trongsa had constructed a truck parking at a cost of Nu 5.4 mn. However, the construction got washed away due to mudslides originating above the construction sites. Though the Dzongkhag administration did not request for additional funds the initial contract amount of Nu 5.4 mn was tantamount to wastage of government resources.

The report says that the prevalence of such practices seems to have been facilitated by the absence of proper disaster budgeting system and collaboration between the Dzongkhag and the relevant ministry in planning and designing the construction activities.

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