Roads situation in need of innovation

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Tsitsi Matope

LESOTHO needs to come up with serious innovations to raise enough funds for the expansion and improvement of its road network.

Not only is accessibility a challenge in many parts of Lesotho, the state of the gravel and tarred roads is generally poor, thereby compromising development. While the quality of roads is a concern for motorists, increasing traffic congestion has also become a major headache that has turned Maseru into a chaotic city. This has also been viewed by some analysts as a sign that the government has not prioritised the development of road infrastructure.

The constructing of new roads to decongest the capital and anticipating congestion in places such as Leribe should become a priority if the country is to achieve sustainable development. According to the Road Fund chief executive officer, Engineer Nkekeletse Makara, Lesotho has only managed to tar almost 2000 km out of the 7000km road network.

He said as a result, most parts of the country still depend on gravel roads which require regular maintenance.

However, the rehabilitation and maintenance of the gravel and tarred roads have proved a daunting task for the responsible agencies including the Maseru City Council, Ministry of Local Government and the Roads Directorate.

The Road Fund, which is tasked with raising funds for road development under the Ministry of Finance, needs M20 billion to adequately maintain and rehabilitate poor roads throughout the country.

In recent years, the Road Fund has struggled to collect significant road-user fees, collecting an average M170 million annually. The revenue has largely been used for maintenance with little being left over to construct new roads.

A kilometre of tarred road costs at least M15 million, which means that the M170 million revenue can be only be used to construct 12km per year.

Although through partnerships, the government is expected to construct a few major roads outside Maseru this year, prioritisation of this key driver of the economy through “significant” national budget allocations to add to resources raised by the Road Fund, can make a huge difference.

Engineer Makara said there was need to ensure all roads were in an “acceptable” state to save lives and prevent further damages caused by extreme weather conditions.

“The state of our roads is a concern,” Eng Makara said.

“The lack of significant developments in as far as roads are concerned, is a continental disaster. This is because most African countries, including Lesotho, lag behind on maintenance of roads due to funding limitations and lack of skills to ensure high quality road networks.”

He said the Road Fund was dependent on revenue collected from road-users. This money includes fees for vehicle licencing, toll gates at the border posts, fuel levies and vehicle tax fees from the department of Traffic and Transport.

One major challenge that has seen the Road Fund failing to raise significant funds is linked to how the road-user fees have remained stagnant for too long. The toll fees were last reviewed in 2011 while fuel levies were last increased in 2006.

Eng Makara said they have since proposed to the government to increase the tariffs to help meet the high demand of services.

“Low revenue-collection has made it difficult for us to borrow from financiers including the International Monetary Fund and World Bank. For this financial year, we have allocated M265 million for road works,” Eng Makara said.

The Road Fund is also struggling to find ways to ensure efficient collection of the road-user fees, including vehicle licences and lack of a digitalised system that can help improve predicting revenue that the fund should expect from agencies such as the department of traffic.

“We are finalising the upgrading of the toll systems and once they become fully automated throughout the country, we will be able to verify the number of vehicles that went through, in addition to projecting expected revenue.”

There are also efforts to assess the possibility of introducing the tolling system in-country, in view of the increasing volumes of vehicles in the recent two years. On a daily basis, the department of Traffic in Maseru registers close to 50 new vehicles.

“We are currently undertaking a study which will inform us on the possibility of extending the tolling system in-country. Increased tolling can help to boost our revenue. We could have used a tolling study done some years back, but we feel that in some areas, it has been overtaken by events,” Eng Makara said.

He said increased traffic volumes have also necessitated interventions to decongest Maseru, particularly all routes into the city centre.

“The Maseru City Council has presented a proposal on the new designs they came up with which identified strategic areas where new roads can be constructed to help decongest the city. We are supporting this intervention and have since paid for the designs done by a consultant.”

However, such critical developments are also expected to gobble a huge chunk of money.

In addition, abrupt changes in governments have affected the momentum, understanding of the context and continuity of some projects.

Eng Makara said while the need to adapt to rapid changes has become critical, innovations in resource mobilisation have become even more important in order to increase the impact of their mandate.

“Previously, we had not really explored partnerships with the private sector and financial institutions as is the case in countries such as Zambia, which are on the upward development trend in road construction and rehabilitation.

“We are keeping our fingers crossed for a positive response to our request for tariff increases. That way we can increase our revenue collection and also boost our capacity to borrow and partner with the private sector and financial institutions.

Meanwhile, the Chairperson of the Road Fund Board, Thato Mohasoa, yesterday emphasised the need for innovative domestic resource mobilisation to boost funding.

“This year we approved two projects as part of innovative financing. These are the Spot Fine Project where we will join the police in co-financing. The other is the E-natis Vehicle Registration System,” Mr Mohasoa said.

He added the board will support the Road Fund to strengthen its collection capacity and that includes assuming total control of toll collections at the border posts around the country.

“This control regime constitutes not only of collections, but includes maintenance, overall management and continued systems enhancements. In this regard, talks have begun with the Lesotho Revenue Authority for it to hand back to the Fund, the toll collection mandate,” Mr Mohasoa said.

“We have decided to make it our business to engage the implementing agencies to help address the problem of absorptive capacity to ensure that funds earmarked for roads are fully utilised on time. We are also introducing Service Level Agreements which will be signed by implementing agencies upon approval of grants. These agreements will facilitate monitoring of performance in relation to annual work programmes that are financed by the Fund,” he said.

The Minister of Finance, Moeketsi Majoro said he advised the Road Fund board to dedicate its efforts to strengthening its governance and to re-align its responsibility approach for managing the funds on behalf of the government.

As a result, Mr Mohasoa said by the end of this month, the board will be fully constituted with capable people with the executive management fully in place.

“For the first time we will have managers for ICT, internal audit and compliance. The board has also resolved to create a flat organisation, with as small and efficient a staff compliment, as possible.  We are also going to cap the total overhead costs to as low as seven-percent of the total revenue,” Mr Mohasoa said.

The board recently held a joint Board Executive Management Retreat, at which they agreed on working together to develop a corporate culture of partnership and joint ownership of responsibility.

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