A bridge too far

If there’s a problem, throw money at it. The money won’t solve the problem, but it will make a few important people richer and possibly happier. Then we just pretend that the problem is solved - until it collapses, killing four people and injuring 45.

Rattanakosin Bridge over the Pasak River in Ayutthaya province collapsed on April 28, 2013.

Thailand’s infrastructure, no doubt, is a major problem in need of a serious overhaul. The 2.2 trillion baht loan scheme approved by the Yingluck Shinawatra government is aimed at addressing this very problem. The money will be invested in infrastructure development megaprojects over the next seven years. 

Whether the loan is too big or too shady, whether there could have been a better way of raising the money, has already been much discussed. But it’s neither here nor there, since it has already been approved.  

How it will be spent should from now on be the focus, and the case of the Rattanakosin Bridge over the Pasak River in Ayutthaya province on Sunday evening is a cautionary tale that’s worth a 2.2 trillion baht consideration. 

In theory, with 2.2 trillion baht to invest in Thailand’s infrastructure, we should all dance naked in the streets for joy. In the Thai reality, the dancing, the nakedness and the joy would only be the privilege of the important few. 

There’s one important issue needs to be dealt with first, before a single baht or satang is spent. Engineering Institute of Thailand (EIT) secretary-general Thanes Weerasiri blamed Sunday's suspension bridge collapse on an "unprofessional" repair job last year.

The issue is "professionalism", or lack thereof. 

The 8.2-million-baht bridge in question was built in 2011 to replace an old bridge that had been constructed in 1982. It was hit hit by a boat last year and repairs were completed only in February this year.

Struck by a boat? How in the name of the river goddess was the bridge struck by a boat? Did the boat driver not make proper offerings to the goddess and spirits of the river before he went behind the wheel? 

The unprofessionalism is not just with city officials responsible for the people’s safety and not just with the contractor responsible for maintaining the bridge, it is also evident with the boat driver who managed to crash into the bridge. 

Basically, everyone who was supposed to be responsible for something failed miserably. 

Now take this and magnify it to the 2.2 trillion baht megaproject infrastructure investment. After the usual 30% cut and other fees that will make many important people richer and possibly happier, then we will set to work. 

Build this. Repair that. Improve this. Develop that. 

If we were to ask 65 million Thais, by a show of hands, how many would actually believe that at the end of the seventh year we will end up with infrastructure and megaprojects ‘’professionally’’ planned and managed, built and maintained – the finest and on the cutting edge, most advanced, most functional and safest of all the infrastructure and megaprojects this side of the Mekhong River? 

Two people raised their hands? Okay then.

Professionalism is the key term. It necessitates efficiency and effectiveness, accountability and responsibility, timeliness and with minimal corruption. 

Okay, those two people just put their hands down. 

Bangkok is the most advanced city in Thailand but, still, when the tollways were being built equipment fell into the streets below crushing cars and killing passengers. A quick news search will find streets collapsing some place or other by one and five metres to be the latest fashionable trend in various cities around the kingdom. The latest was two days ago in Korat. 

In Bangkok alone, last year from March onwards street surfaces collapsed on Rama 4 Road, Rama 3 Road, Charoen Krung Road, Phaya Thai Road, Chang Wattana Road, Asoke Intersection, Sri Burapa Road, Sukhumvit Soi 31, and others. Yet somehow the governor was still re-elected.  

A subsidence in Rama 4 Road, March 2012.

Currently, it has taken three months just to repair the Thai-Belgian Bridge over the Witthayu-Sathorn Intersection, causing traffic havoc on a daily basis. Three months to repair? Do we have an engineer in the house? 

All this is to say that, yes, Thailand’s infrastructure needs a major upgrade. If taking out a 2.2 trillion baht loan is necessary, so be it. But before putting even a satang into anything, we should first ask ourselves, are we up to the job? 

Do we have the professionalism? If the answer is no, then address that problem first. But of course the answer is yes, because to say no would be a big loss of face, and that’s a no-no. 

So ordinary citizens will just have to keep their fingers crossed and pray to the gods and spirits, making lots of merit in the hope that things won’t just suddenly collapse under our feet or over our heads. But of course, as is well known, the first casualties in any development projects are Burmese labourers. 

Choke-dee, everyone.

Related search: Opinion, Voranai Vanijaka,

About the author

columnist
Writer: Voranai Vanijaka
Position: Political and Social Commentator