Nine (9) core mes­sages to as­sist pol­icy mak­ers re­think road in­fras­truc­ture in Zam­bia

Zambian Business Times - - INFRASTRUCTURE DEVELOPMENT -

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.

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