Wednesday, May 29, 2019

Great Walls of Thimphu

If we organise a competition to select the best compound wall in Thimphu, which organization will win? 

Of course, there will never be a compound wall contest, but I wonder why organizations compete to build extravagant walls. What are they trying to protect? What are they trying to hide?

Isaac Newton once said, “We build too many walls and not enough bridges…” and this is so true about us, in literal sense. In villages, we build compound walls and fences to protect our crops from animals, but here we neither have crops nor animals. And yet we have the strongest and biggest of walls built around our offices! By chance, if the walls are built to keep intruders away, then it’s common sense to know that they can walk through the gate or climb over the wall.

Supreme Wall
Looking at the enormity of the walls that are being built around government offices in Thimphu, it seems like Thimphu is in the state of war, and that each warring office is trying to protect itself from neighboring enemies and invaders. That certainly reminds us of the Great Wall of China protecting Chinese empire, but today even that famous wall is a mere tourist attraction with no defensive function.

But since Thimphu is a peaceful city with no stray cattle, the only thing walls are contributing to is isolating one part of a place from the other, blocking thoroughfares and depriving pedestrians the right of way.

My Neighbourhood 
For example, in my suffocating office neighborhood: ECB is adjacent to ACC but for me to get to ECB I have to take a detour from near Zorig Chusum; RAA is adjacent to RSPN but I have to walk all the way around from MoH gate; same is the case between MoH and NLC; MoE and UN House; MoH and Bhutan Telecom. They are divided by Berlin walls of their own. Pedestrians have no option but to follow the motor road to get from one place to another. No offices have left thoroughfares. And that’s just around my office in Kawajangsa.

So Close, yet so far!
It’s understandable for private property owners to enclose their estate within the four walls and station guard dogs (and put “beware of dogs” sign on the gate), but public offices should be kept as accessible as possible. The leadership of the organizations should think broadly at a national level.
Tri-Junction
It’s Bhutan on either side of the wall after all, and if offices talk to each other and mutually agree to share parking spaces and make free access, it will only save resources for the country. Building walls between offices only creates differences and distance between offices. I wonder who pays for these walls! I am sure no one can be a bully like Donald Trump to demand Mexico to pay for the wall that he wants along his border.
So much investment to disconnect
Compound walls don’t come cheap and it’s taken from the limited public money. Instead of walls, the money can go into useful infrastructure like roads, toilets and park facilities to name a few.
Highly secure- but from what?
I once asked a friend in Royal Audit Authority how they failed to catch government institutions wasting huge amount of money in walls. She laughed and told me that building wall around office is an official requirement. Baffling! So, on one hand it’s official mandate to waste precious budget on building walls, and on the other hand we hear officials cry about not having budget for replacing a broken tap in the office toilet.
Their roofs are almost touching, but they are completely disconnected
Construction of walls and fences of any sort around public offices should be discouraged, rather a set of CCTV cameras purchased at the cost of tiny fraction of the wall would effectively do the job of securing the area.

As long as the walls remain just as physical barriers it’s fine, but we know things just don’t stop there. The physical walls are either the result of diplomatic differences between the leaders of the organisations, or the cause of it. It is the symbol of mistrust and isolation. Walls, as you see, will never promote goodwill, and we have seen enough bureaucratic walls in Thimphu, one becoming a bottleneck for other and other not failing to take revenge. The whole little territorial dramas finally hits the general public the hardest; having to visit five different offices across their walls to get approval for a single work, when ideally one office could easily get across to other four offices online and get the work done on one table. 

Walls, therefore, is injurious to our harmony and our efficiency. 


“In the recent past, it has become evident that institutions in our country are all asserting “independence” and seeking greater “autonomy” at the expense of overall harmony. There is limited communication and coordination among agencies and this invariably leads to a lack of coherence.”- His Majesty the King, 17 Dec, 2013

3 comments:

  1. Good fences make good neighbors

    ReplyDelete
  2. Fully with you. While I am not completely against railings and fences which can help avoid misunderstandings and disagreements regarding land ownership even for public institutions, keep out stray animals which are common in Thimphu, I don't see the point of thick high walls, which are destroying the openness of Thimphu and making it a very constricted place. Parks and public buildings particularly should be visible.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Dear Passu,
    It is their way of making a territorial claim - of possessing something that is public property. Ask them what is the idea behind the walls and I can assure you that they hadn't thought about it :)-

    This is the same issue I raised when the periphery walls at Lamperi Botanical Park came up. I asked the Project Manager:

    Are you trying to keep something out or is your attempt to keep something in. In either case, it is the very antithesis to the concept of conservation.

    ReplyDelete

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