‘I am concerned about reports of corruption in my ministry’
The Ministry of Public Works and Transport is one of government’s key departments which deal with the country’s major development projects, among them the construction of roads, bridges and designing of new government buildings.
It is the nature of its responsibilities that the ministry is considered a vehicle for the development of other sectors such as health, tourism, mining and agriculture.
The Lesotho Times this week met with the Minister of Public Works and Transport, Mr Lebesa Maloi, to discuss these responsibilities in depth and where he intends to take this ministry.
LT: Road-maintenance is one area that seems to challenge your ministry, particularly because there are some new roads constructed but barely two years later they need major maintenance. Could you shed more light as to why this is the case?
Maloi: In some cases, it’s a question of our roads failing to cope with the country’s harsh weather-patterns, which makes us keep going back and forth.
To make matters worse, we don’t have a sufficient infrastructure-maintenance budget and in most cases ,we find ourselves eating into the budgets for other projects.
We would like the quality of workmanship to continue improving, hence we have a training centre in Teyateyaneng, which is helping us build the capacity of road-contractors who need such intervention.
I think it is also important for the contractors themselves to take this upgrading of skills initiative seriously.
LT: Your Ministry has been busy in the last two years constructing roads in its four major projects. Earlier on, we were discussing that the current developments are going to open up areas such as Roma, through Ha-Ramabanta, as well as Semonkong to Ha-Sekake in Qacha’s Nek. What is challenging the implementation of these major works so far?
Maloi: Well, a lot is involved when a big ministry like ours undertakes such major constructions.
Remember some of these roads are being constructed in mountainous districts, for example, the road from Sani Pass to Mokhotlong, Oxbow to Mapholaneng and also the major bridge we are constructing at Koma-Koma across the Senqu River in Thaba-Tseka.
The challenge so far and in almost all our other projects, has been the costly nature of such infrastructure developments, mainly because of the mountainous terrain, which demands high investment and also commitment of the workforce.
It is also not easy to ensure we have a full complement of the technical skills demanded in the roads and bridges construction sector.
LT: But would you say your ministry is struggling to reach its target in as far as the planned constructions are concerned?
Maloi: The thing is we would like to do more because the need for road infrastructure is huge in the country.
At the moment, we do have sufficient capacity to undertake these works. And honestly, our biggest challenge is funding limitations.
LT: Do you have a target as to the kilometres in road-construction, you would like to cover in the 2014/2015 fiscal year and how much money has been invested in the current projects?
Maloi: We do have plans to construct roads from Nyenye to Mapoteng in Leribe and to Makhoroana in the Berea District, Alwyn-Skop to Tele in Quthing, Ha-Leshoele to Mathokoane to Ha-Bene and Ha Setene in Leribe and also do several maintenance works on both paved and unpaved roads.
This year, we plan to cover 80 kilometers (pavement strengthening for paved roads, 100 kilometers pavement strengthening for unpaved roads under the annual periodic maintenance of gravel roads and upgrade 30 kilometres from earth to gravel roads.
We are also going to upgrade 50 kilometers of gravel roads, including tracks to paved roads. We are estimating this fiscal year’s works to cost around M850 million.
LT: What do you have to say about accusations that your ministry is not doing enough to undertake critical road constructions in some areas where such developments are needed the most to enable communities to access certain services such as health and education?
Maloi: Our core mandate is to construct major roads and help facilitate the growth of sectors such as tourism and agriculture and access to various public services.
It’s true that we still have areas that are in need which we still have to cover.
But let me assure all concerned stakeholders that with adequate resources, we will be able to do more in as far as ensuring accessibility in all areas in concerned.
LT: Which roads are lined up for maintenance this and next year?
Maloi: With the little money we have, we are looking at maintaining typical roads such as the one from TY to Kubelu River, a paved road from Corn Exchange to Kolojane in Berea and unpaved roads from Kolonyama to Manganeng to Fobane and Ha-Qamo in Leribe.
Our finances would also determine whether we will be able to undertake other maintenance works elsewhere.
LT: Should we also expect the construction of new bridges this year?
Maloi: Yes, Bethel Bridge across Senqu River. This would connect the districts of Quthing and Mohale’s Hoek.
LT: Your ministry is also responsible for developing the Civil Aviation sector and railway services but it seems there is nothing much happening to ensure Lesotho has a national airline and provides public rail transportation services. What is stopping you from initiating the development of other forms of transportation which the country desperately needs?
Maloi: At the moment, we are finalising designs and tender documentation for the rehabilitation of the Moshoeshoe I International Airport (MIA) runway and refurbishment of the terminal building.
Our intention is to first improve the infrastructure and then invite service-providers to introduce airline services, both domestic and international.
We currently have the service-provider to improve infrastructure at the Maseru Container Terminal and carrying out institutional reform.
We are also seeking funding from donor-agencies to carry-out a feasibility study for a railway line that will run through Lesotho to Kimberly and Durban in South Africa.
LT: There are concerns that priority is not being given to rehabilitate the Moshoeshoe 1 International Airport. Are there any plans to give the airport a facelift anytime soon? What other works will be done because, for instance, the carousels have not been working for years?
Maloi: We are planning to start rehabilitating the international airport before the end of this year.
This financial year, we have put aside M30 million for the refurbishment of the terminal building, strengthening of the runway, taxiways and cargo-handling facilities, which include the carousels.
LT: Let’s talk about the other services you provide such as designing government buildings. You have designed the new State House, one police station in Mafeteng, Mafeteng Correctional Services facilities, a court in Leribe and the national museum and art gallery to be constructed in Maseru. Are you happy with the progress so far?
Maloi: Nearly all of the buildings you mentioned have commenced on site.
We employ private consultants to enhance our capacity where there is a need to do so.
I believe we need to do more and yes, there is a plan to rollout a lot of new government buildings, including offices in Maseru, government complexes in the districts, parliamentary village, public servants and police housing and others.
LT: The Road Safety Department has been implementing the United Nations (UN) Decade of Action since 2011. How effective are its programmes in as far as saving lives is concerned?
Maloi: The Road Safety Department has been focusing on road safety campaigns, especially during holidays. The UN Decade of Action is meant to encourage the use of safety belts, introducing road safety curriculum in schools and intensifying road inspections.
While I cannot immediately provide statistics to determine the level of success in terms of how many fatalities have been reduced since its launch, I think the programme is doing well in terms of helping to change the behaviour of drivers through the promotion of life-saving practices.
LT: We have been talking earlier on about the negotiations between your ministry and South Africa’s Ministry of Transport. Can you give us more details about this?
Maloi: Due to the high prevalence of illegal registration of vehicles in Lesotho and also congestion, we are planning to introduce a certain software in Lesotho, which has worked in South Africa.
This initiative has helped South Africa to ease the processes of vehicle registration.
Once we implement this programme locally, what this would mean is that vehicles are going to be registered electronically.
Our meetings with our South African counterparts also provided the opportunity for us to discuss the cross-border transport problems between our two nations.
LT: What other developments are on the cards under the Department of Transport and Traffic?
Maloi: Well, plans are at an advanced stage to construct a One-Stop-Shop facility for the registration of vehicles and other related services in Ha-Foso, Maseru.
We have already fenced the area and expect the construction to commence during this financial year. We have also earmarked Maputsoe for the construction of a cross-border bus-stop. The area has already been fenced and we expect construction to start this year.
LT: Finally, let’s talk about your ministry as a whole. Which areas are you not happy with; areas you think need more effort to ensure they are enhanced?
Maloi: I am concerned about reports of corruption in the delivery of services and this is an issue we are currently dealing with at various levels.
I am also very worried about low salaries for rare skills because they end up leaving for greener pastures and this, to a larger extent, affects the progress of our programmes.
I think we also need to work hard in ensuring that we have adequate capacity in the construction industry while inadequate resources such as computers and design softwares is also another problem we are grappling with.
Although I have not been with this ministry for a long time, I feel strongly that we need to restructure the Department of Traffic and Transport as well as that of Civil Aviation and Buildings Section in order to improve service delivery.
That is why we are currently putting together our proposals for submission to the cabinet and other relevant ministries.