.., as country needs M40 billion to restore deteriorating roads
FOR a long time, the Roads Directorate has been paying contractors in full despite poor workmanship.
This week, the Lesotho Times engaged the Director for Road Network Maintenance, Lebohang Mohau, who said the practice of paying for shoddy work should stop.
In fact, contractors should be blacklisted for poor workmanship and they should not be given tenders in future.
Below are excerpts of the interview:
LT: Please provide your brief biography.
Mohau: I’m 52 years old. I hold an Honours degree in Civil Engineering from the Hertfordshire University, United Kingdom (UK). Soon after graduating in 1995, I joined the Lesotho Highlands Development Authority (LHDA), where I worked until 2004. I’ve worked for several other companies including Babereki Consulting Engineers and GIBB CC Joint Venture and the Lesotho National Development Corporation (LNDC). I’ve been happily married since 1997 and we are blessed with two children.
LT: You were recently appointed to your current post. What do you intend to achieve during your term in office?
Mohau: My main responsibility is to ensure that the Roads Directorate fulfills its mandate of providing an efficient national road infrastructure that is well managed, safe, suitable, reliable and accessible. The network should be able to support the country’s economic growth. It must be free of potholes and its drainage must be well-serviced. Motorists should be confident to use our roads to get to their destinations on time.
We have an obligation to ensure that motorists don’t incur additional costs of maintaining their vehicles as a result of poor roads. I must build synergies with various stakeholders so that they buy into our vision of making all parts of Lesotho accessible through safe and well-maintained roads infrastructure. I must ensure that projects are perfectly executed and on time. Performance management and accountability will also be top of my agenda.
LT: Lesotho has a perennial problem when it comes to roads infrastructure. Some of the roads are no longer structurally sound because they are now older than their 15-year lifespan. How do you plan to address this?
Mohau: Due to lack of adequate funds, we can’t work on all our projects at once. We will appeal to the government to increase investment in our roads. We will also reach out to the private sector to partner us in maintaining roads. Better roads mean they’ll do business better and save on vehicle maintenance costs and time.
LT: There has been talk about introducing toll gates on Lesotho roads. What became of this idea?
Mohau: Plans to introduce toll gates are still very much alive. The Transport ministry is carrying out a master plan route study to look into various options of raising funds to improve and maintain the country’s road network. We’ve to decide whether to toll our roads or introduce additional levies on fuel to get funds for road projects. The study should be completed by the end of this year and it will provide us with recommendations on the way forward.
LT: We have seen roads falling apart soon after their competition. Does the Directorate have a policy regarding the awarding of contracts? How is the tendering for road construction and maintenance done? Have you ever blacklisted any contractors over shoddy work?
Mohau: For a long time, we have had a problem of contractors being paid in full despite doing poor work which falls far below the expected standards. This has been partly due to our internal inefficiency when it comes to supervising projects and failure to act against contractors who fail to give us value for money. This rot must stop. Contractors should offer professional and quality services that meet our standards. We must come up with a policy that allows us to impose penalties on contractors that fail to do their work satisfactorily. We do not condone poor workmanship that compromises public safety. Contractors that do shoddy work must be blacklisted. Action must also be taken against professionals supervising road works if it is proven that they let their guard down in accessing and approving contractors’ projects.
As an engineer, I’m worried that we still have cases of contractors who are not being penalized for poor workmanship. At the end of the day, we must account to the government, which also must account to Basotho on how their taxes are being used. We are looking at all our current projects to see if they’re going on smoothly and according to set times. Already, there are some challenges that I’m facing. I cannot disclose them now because our contracts have confidentiality clauses. But I can assure you that appropriate action will be taken against those who are not performing well. Contractors should build their businesses and provide quality work so that the Roads Directorate can trust them.
LT: What plans do you have to ease congestion on the roads, especially in Maseru?
Mohau: expanding roads in the city is not our immediate focus because of the serious budget constraints. There are also huge amounts of compensation to be paid to people and businesses whose land would have to be taken to make way for the expansion of roads.
We also have a huge backlog of road works across the country, and it is important that we clear these first before embarking on new projects. So, I can’t give a specific timeframe to say when we are going to expand roads in Maseru. This is a situation that we must nurse until we can comfortably say the primary road network is now safe. Our current focus is on ensuring that the primary road network, which is mostly used by commercial vehicles and public transporters across the country, is safe. We advise the government to decentralise public services to the districts so that people won’t need to travel to Maseru. We also encourage businesses to do the same. Decentralising services will go a long way in saving our roads and ensuring that job seekers do not always flock to areas like Maseru and Maputsoe where commercial activities are concentrated.
LT: According to a 2020 study by the Directorate, Lesotho’s road infrastructure was worth M60 billion in 2010 but this had declined to M20 billion by 2019. What does this mean in simple terms? What is the impact on the public?
Mohau: This means we need about M40 billion to restore our roads infrastructure to the condition that it was way back in 2010. The deterioration of our roads means an increase in vehicle maintenance costs. Motorists are more prone to accidents on bad roads. It also means an increase in the cost of doing business and reduced investment opportunities in areas where roads are in a poor state.
LT: Recklessness by some communities has been blamed for the rapid decline of the country’s roads. Are you engaging these communities to spread awareness on the need to refrain from practices that damage roads?
Mohau: We run community education programmes to create awareness. As a last resort, we seek legal enforcement in cases where laws are being ignored. Starting from this month, we are rolling out the Roads Reserve Management guidelines which have been approved by the Roads Directorate’s board.
LT: We have seen poorly planned settlements mushrooming everywhere without roads infrastructure. Whenever this happens, the Lesotho Electricity Corporation (LEC) and the Water and Sewerage Company (WASCO) immediately connect the new houses even when they have been constructed on land meant for roads infrastructure. Is there a working relationship between your department and these other stakeholders?
Mohau: Yes, there is collaboration between the Roads Directorate through the Public Works and Local Government ministries. But the challenge is that sometimes there is no communication when chiefs allocate land. We must improve consultations with local structures and authorities so that our initiatives do not clash. Our collaboration at managerial levels should filter down to local government level. You find councillors allocating land without any reference to planned projects and without using any maps. When we come in as the Roads Directorate to construct roads, we find that the earmarked areas have already been allocated to people or businesses. You also find that entities such as LEC and WASCO have come in to provide their services. This causes a lot of problems. We must regularly visit community councils to advise them of potential road projects to be undertaken in their areas so that they don’t touch earmarked land.
LT: In 2014, your department said it had plans to deal with the ever-increasing traffic in Maseru urban and reduce the congestion on our roads. This would be achieved through upgrading the busiest roads such as Kingsway. What became of these plans?
Mohau: The planning is done. We came up with designs for these projects in 2015 but nothing has been done because the Directorate doesn’t have funds for implementation. We’ll only start when we receive the funds from the government. We don’t know when this will be.
LT: Lesotho has had a high turnover of governments in the past decade. How has this affected projects undertaken by your department?
Mohau: Usually when a new government comes into power, it has its own priorities which might be different from the previous administration. This disrupts plans already in place. In some cases, there is no handover of reports to new staff. There should be records showing what the Roads Directorate wants to achieve so that when a new government comes in with new proposals, it should be aligned with the department’s strategic development plan. Information should always be available through reports that are submitted regularly to ensure continuity. But unfortunately, this has not always been the case.