Nine (9) core messages to assist policy makers rethink road infrastructure in Zambia
There is also weak co-operation and coordination between RDA and NRFA. The consequences of this state of affairs have included focus on economically-unviable roads. It has also contributed to the monumental challenges at the level of progress monitoring. This is worsened by the fact that the Government lacks rigorous asset management criteria for the assessment of the quality of the roads that are undergoing construction, maintenance and rehabilitation. In the light of these realities, institutional reforms are urgent. A comprehensive study is recommended that aims to recommend to the Government on how best to streamline, coordinate and/or harmonise the mandates of different players in the road sector. The aim should be coming up with an alternative structure that places the private sector at the centre of the operationalisation of roads infrastructure development and whereby the government structures should remain lean and basically facilitative in both their mandates and orientations. The outsourcing of competences that reside outside Government should remain one of the guiding principles governing the needed institutional reforms. Such reforms should also come up with a system that better facilitates the building of ‘communication bridges’ between the Government and the private sector through, inter alia, the strengthening of the State’s own feedback channels with the private sector in order to better manage more informed and mutually-reinforcing discourse around roads infrastructure development.
A fuller and better integration of local contractors into road maintenance holds great promise towards poverty reduction and securing improved livelihoods for Zambians
There are significant political dividends that could be derived from the redirecting of roads budget towards road maintenance. The evident marginalisation of Zambian/local contractors in roads infrastructure development has largely been explained by the current prioritisation of road construction (over maintenance and rehabilitation) that is presently dominated by foreign contractors largely due to the technical sophistication that is required at this level. Using labour-intensive road maintenance in the context of well-structured, appropriately legislated, and equitably-managed public works programmes possesses good political up-sides as this approach would create the much sought-out local jobs, particularly for the youth. Reserving exclusively for small- to medium-scale indigenous engineering companies the construction of less complex rural roads; putting up of drainages, pedestrian pavements, road signage and road markings could serve as a low-hanging fruit with significant political mileage. The repair and maintenance of urban roads (e.g. filling of pot holes) would equally create more jobs for citizens.
The case for Public Private Partnership (PPP) has been made but local conditions still constrain fuller embracement of the concept
Government interest in PPP is clearly evident at policy, institutional, regulatory and legislative levels. It is agreed that such partnerships enable the public sector to harness the expertise and efficiencies that the private sector commands in the delivery and management of road infrastructure and related services. To date, however, very few road projects have been developed through a PPP in Zambia. According to the PPP Unit, only one PPP project in the road sector has been successfully negotiated and even this one is still pending conclusion of the financial clause. In addition, very few potential PPP projects have been profiled. The lack of knowledge on the part of contracting authorities and the private sector regarding PPP procedures, processes and guidelines is said to partially explain the limited interest in PPP options. It is also clear that the Zambian economy is too small to attract meaningful PPP arrangements or projects. Presently, there is insufficient traffic volume to attract and maintain PPP arrangements and even if it could work on some of the country’s major roads, this could stifle Zambia’s competitiveness as a result of higher road usage fees. Essentially, therefore, the appetite for the various financing options under PPP has been subdued. As Zambia prepares for exploiting in future the potential dividends from PPP arrangements in the roads infrastructure sector, a few pointers are noteworthy. Firstly, strong and consistent PPP policy and institutional environment is pivotal as private sector operators require a guarantee of predictability of the environment where they operate. Secondly, political commitment at the highest level of Government is considered essential to secure the attractiveness of the PPP approach in road infrastructure development. Thirdly, PPP projects demand the availability and reliability of a range of specialist expertise in-country or through outsourcing. Fourthly, the availability of a professional, well-resourced central PPP office/unit that facilitates smooth partnerships between the Government and private sector players is mandatory. Fifthly, reliable, effective and fair systems for dispute resolution are critical for PPP programme/project success since disputes are common in road construction. Sixthly, the limited technical capacity within the Government as well as in the private sector to meaningfully and strategically manage PPP projects remains a challenge. Given the complexity of the required skills for administering long-term PPP projects, capacity enhancement in both public and private sector camps is key to the success of PPP approaches. Ambiguous responsibilities among independent agencies and ministerial units; unclear and uncoordinated mandates and procedures; and lack of, or deficient framework for, the resolution of disputes currently affect the regulatory environment in Zambia, which are all unhelpful in giving meaning to the PPP approach. The elimination of these challenges is essential for the provision of transparent procedures that the private sector depending upon under PPP arrangements.
Urban bias in roads infrastructure investments has introduced legitimate concerns regarding the neglect of rural areas that house the majority of the people
The issue of equitable development in the road infrastructure sector has assumed significance as roads are increasingly being perceived as important prerequisites for social and economic development. There has been a bias towards roads in urban areas, with Lusaka and the Copperbelt getting the lion’s share. Rural feeder roads have remained seriously under-funded. This bias has overshadowed potential development in outlying areas and has been one of the main reasons behind rural-urban migration. And yet the case for equitable investment in roads infrastructure is indisputable: without adequate transport, goods and services cannot be brought in sufficient quantity to the rural people who need them; agricultural produce cannot be taken to market yet the majority of rural dwellers depend on this for their livelihoods; children cannot attend school; and those in need of medical attention cannot get to the nearest medical facilities. A diverse and vibrant exchange between rural areas and the urban centres that are relatively better off also depends on an effective transport system, as does participation in political and social life. Going forward, the definition/coverage of the Core Road Network (CRN), which have remained the priority in resource allocations within the sector, should include strategic feeder roads in rural areas. Similarly, as an equity issue, a deliberate effort should be made to empower local contractors through the award of contracts for rural road works exclusively to this category of market players.
This analysis was conducted by Professor Oliver Saasa the Managing Consultant at Premier Consult Limited.