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Responsibility at arm’s length
Friday,  6/1/2018, 16:17 

Responsibility at arm’s length

Son Nguyen

The responsibilities of relevant people have been pinpointed following four railway accidents within just four days last week that killed three, injured scores, and wreaked havoc on the industry’s rolling stock. While in-depth investigations are still being conducted by police, many senior transport officials and railway executives – including Minister of Transport Nguyen Van The and Board Chairman of Vietnam Railways Vu Anh Minh – have admitted to subjective flaws that led to the accidents, and took the opportunity to proclaim their responsibility. Such a quick move, though heaping praise to some extent, is not enough, according to local media.

To begin with, the doom began last Thursday when a train collided with a truck at a level crossing in Thanh Hoa Province, instantly killing two train drivers. The mishap was quickly followed by two more collisions on Saturday – one in Quang Nam and the other in Nghe An – that seriously damaged cargo trains and injured two train drivers, and just one day later, another took place in Nghe An again. The quick succession, unprecedented in the country’s railway history, arouses grave concerns among all walks of life about railway safety, and gives rise to questions over who are to be held genuinely accountable for the tragedies.

This Monday, according to Nguoi Lao Dong, Minister of Transport Nguyen Van The convened an urgent meeting, where the Cabinet member said he “assumed responsibility before the Party and the State, and made apologies to relatives of victims of recent railway accidents.”

Meanwhile, Board Chairman of Vietnam Railways Corporation Vu Anh Minh said in the same meeting that he was responsible for the accidents, and was ready to accept any disciplinary measures, according to Lao Dong.

There are also others who deny responsibility for the accidents. In an interview with Tuoi Tre, Vu Quang Khoi, head of the Vietnam Railway Authority, says that he feels ashamed at the succession of four railway accidents, but regarding the responsibility of the authority, “I do not have any faults.”

Khoi asserts in the paper that the Vietnam Railway Authority as a State management agency is mandated to help with the issuance of legal documents for the railway sector, and to conduct inspections into the compliance with such rules. Such a point backfires, as many readers in Tuoi Tre say that if numerous accidents still take place despite such legal documents and inspections, it can hardly say the authority has fulfilled its tasks.

“Hearing the answer from the head of the Vietnam Railway Authority, I comprehend the tragedy for the railway sector,” says a reader in Tuoi Tre newspaper’s feedback column. “The railway authority is not directly involved in such accidents, but its mindset, its vision and its management style are backward and inefficient,” asserts another.

Following the two leaders’ assumption of responsibility, many executives in the industry have come under fire, since it has been initially established that management mistakes and wrong operational procedures are to blame for some of the accidents.

However, while flaws and mistakes in railway management and operation are direct causes of the accidents, it is the deteriorating conditions of railway infrastructure and facilities that are the key culprit, and the problem is that such conditions have persisted over the years without due attention from railway leaders.

According to news website Tri Thuc Tre, many solutions and measures have been repeatedly proposed over many long years, but “the country’s railway sector remains an underdeveloped sector, and a malnourished baby in the transport industry.” The situation of stagnation and underdevelopment has still not been addressed despite numerous complaints.

The media outlet calls on the Minister of Transport to take a railway journey on a short distance to see how many level crossings have been randomly opened beyond the management capacity of the railway sector. There are also some accident-prone level crossings that are attended to by the people or business, though it is not their duty to do so, says the news site. Therefore, what is important is how to deal with arising problems, as “it is boring to hear the repeated promises of making efforts, drawing experiences, and tackling level crossings…”

Seconding the point, Lao Dong comments that the status quo remains after accidents, saying “there are certain railway sections that have never been repaired after nearly 100 years… That is not to mention that among 5,700 level crossings, only 1,517 are managed by the railway sector.” Up to 80% of railway accidents take place at such level crossings, says the paper.

“It is said that Vietnam’s railway has a history of 132 years, but it is trailing (the railway sector in other countries) by 100 years,” says the paper.

Therefore, it is the inaction by transport authorities that is to blame for the high frequency of railway accidents, since they have done little to improve safety. As such, proclamations of assuming responsibility are not enough.

Nguyen Xuan Thuy, former director of a transport publishing house, says in Dan Viet that railway management agencies in Vietnam are not competent in terms of both awareness of responsibility and discipline. Therefore, accidents are inevitable. “In other countries, upon such a succession of railway accidents, the top leaders will surely be dismissed,” Thuy is quoted as saying.

Nguoi Lao Dong says it is high time responsibility is attached to actions. Officials responsible for such grave accidents must be dismissed, relieved of duty or demoted. Officials and senior executives “if brave enough should tender their resignation, since resignation is the clearest and fullest manifestation of their assumption of responsibility,” says the paper. “If the issue of responsibility is not radically addressed, the status quo in the transport industry in general and the railway sector in particular will continue as normal when the public indignation calms down,” says the paper.

As stated early on, leaders of the sector have accepted their responsibilities for the railway accidents, but, according to media outlets, it is important that authorities take actions to change the status quo and to prevent accidents from repeating themselves. Otherwise, claims to assume responsibility will be merely empty words. In other words, it is just a way to keep genuine responsibility at arm’s length.

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