Economist: Highlands Highway in poor state


ECONOMIST Paul Barker says the Highlands Highway is in a poor state because of the under-budgeting on infrastructure maintenance.
Barker, the executive director of the Institute of National Affairs, was commenting yesterday on Treasurer Patrick Pruaitch’s announcement of a Government loan of US$120 million (K368.58 million) to be used on the rehabilitation of the Highlands Highway.
“The National Capital District now has some fine roads. But bottlenecks in NCD’s infrastructure aren’t so significant to the country’s economy as the unreliable access to the main centres of production and population around the country,” Barker said.
“It causes produce never to reach markets overseas or domestically, or heavily increases the cost or time (and therefore quality) of delivery.”
He said the problem was that each year, the Government badly under-budgeted for infrastructure maintenance and damage prevention, emergency repairs and rehabilitation.
“So, invariably a much larger amount is required subsequently for structural repairs or restoration.
“Many roads are also poorly built as a result of poor design, implementation and supervision, sometimes with unsuitable, corner-cutting contractors, even when contracts often seem over-priced or poorly procured, either through local tendering or uncompetitive Exim Bank procurement processes,” he said.
Barker said in the early 2000s, the National Road Authority was set up to address the problem of lack of recurrent funding for maintaining existing infrastructure “by letting it manage and sustain the highways which have been brought up to a sound state”.
He said it ensured adequate funding, sanitised from the ongoing annual budget pressures and fluctuations, notably using a specific road tax as the core revenue.
“The NRA was also set up to be accountable, with representation from Government and various private sector and civil society user stakeholders,” he said.

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