By LUKE KAMA
Attending to road maintenance and construction needs long-term planning with adequate financing over a 20 to 30 year period and not on ad hoc or piecemeal basis with one-off funding.
This is the word from the Secretary for Works David Wereh, the driving force and the chief architect behind the Sustainable Highlands Highway Rehabilitation Programme (SHHRP) funded by the Asian Development Bank (ADB) through a K3 billion loan agreement with the Government of PNG.
The project is expected to be implemented over a period of 10 years commencing in 2017 with the initial tendering and procurement processes and meeting other requirements by the funding agency (ADB) with actual construction works on the ground anticipated to take place towards the end of 2018 and early 2019.
Wereh, a civil engineer, since being appointed Secretary six years ago, knows very well that he is chief custodian of road and bridge infrastructures and building standards in the country and has a huge and challenging task ahead of him.
“Making my way up from being a site engineer for Works Department involving in roads and bridge construction projects around the country, I had known very well that I am now confronted with the most challenging and yet the most significant task of maintaining our existing road network as well as trying to build new ones to provide accessibility and connectivity between our communities.
“But apart from these, there is this task of maintaining and improving our building standards, the challenges of managing landowner demands or compensation claims, planning and attending to emergencies and disasters concerning disruption and or destruction to our existing roads and bridges due to unpredictable weather patterns induced by the impacts of climate change and most importantly, addressing the issue of laziness and public service mentality in the Works Department.”
The secretary said PNG’s rugged mountains, steep terrain, fast flowing rivers, swamps, dense tropical rainforests, a scattered population and the impacts of climate change, make it more complex to maintain existing roads to acceptable conditions and open up new road links with limited resources available to the department.
“But these problems are not supreme or supernatural.
“These are things that humans with the God-given wisdom and knowledge can be able to comprehend, overcome and find solutions to.
“So the first thing we did was to change the way business is conducted here at the Works Department.
“We are taking a paradigm shift and it includes applying cost-saving measures, change of public service mentality to a more corporate organisation, improving our design and building standards, and most importantly, shifting the ad-hoc or piecemeal approach of attending to road maintenance and construction needs in the country over the past years to a more programme-based and long-term approach with better strategies and clear roadmaps.”
A check on fraudulent claims
Wereh said the notable outcome of their cost-effective approach was cutting down on unnecessary compensation claims associated to road maintenance and construction works and over the last five years, Works Department has saved the Government some K600million-plus from bogus or fraudulent landowner compensation claims by testing them in court.
“This is one of our notable cost-saving achievements.
“In terms of change in public service mentality, our response to emergencies over the last five years clearly reflects that.
“We now attend to emergencies very quickly to ensure road accessibility still remains open, except the Banab Bridge in Madang which was delayed for almost six months simply because of landowner issues.
He said a key change in the department now was the shift from a short term project-based approach to a long term programme-based approach in addressing road maintenance needs as well as trying to open up new road links.
“We are now taking a more strategic approach with much better strategies and a clearer road map unlike the past where road maintenance and rehabilitation works were done on ad-hoc and piecemeal basis.
National road investment programme
“The department has now developed a national road investment programme for the very first time and what we are doing now is mapping out all our key existing road networks throughout the country as well as the new links that we propose to build under this programme.”
The new routes proposed are based on their significance to stimulating economic opportunities as well as providing greater connectivity between places.
“It’s a 20-year programme which requires long term financing as well and we will factor that into our annual budgets and any support from our development partners like the World Bank and the Asian development Bank and others will tie into this long term road investment strategy.
“So we now have a much better strategy with a very clear road map on how we can maintain, rehabilitate and improve the standard and quality of our existing roads as well as open up new ones to create greater connectivity and accessibility within the country for our people and the country to move forward in terms of developments.”
He said the Works Department with support from the National Government had already started some important road maintenance programmes and would build on the success of these to deliver the national road investment strategy.
“Despite a very difficult time for our government, our country and our economy, we have done some good work already because of the support from this government.
“Funding support from the National Government has increased over the last five years and that has now put us on a better footing than we were some 10 to 15 years back.”
Wereh said the national road investment strategy and the long-term road maintenance programme were not developed overnight but were based on past experiences and lessons learnt and would be successfully delivered.
“We have our past experiences and we have seen that long-term investments made on main road networks are very important.
Benefits to be reaped 15-20 years later
“Over the last few years, we have worked on aligning and prioritising all our main road networks in the country like the Highlands Highway, the Boluminski Highway, New Britain Highway, Enga Highway, Coastal Sepik Highway, Magi and Hiritano Highway, and the Ramu-Madang Highway, as well as our major and critical missing links in the country.
“We have already aligned and prioritised these roads and are attending to them bit-by-bit one at a time based on funding that is available. We have already attended to the Boluminski Highway.
“The Highlands Highway is the next one that will be rehabilitated at the cost of K3billion and over a 10-year period and this will involve a completely new standard to find long lasting solution to the maintenance problems that we have encountered on this highway over the last 30 to 40 years.
“And I tell you, after 15 to 20 years down the line, this country will reap the benefits of what we are doing now.
“There may be criticisms, but criticisms are good and we accept them.
“But it is good to not only criticise but provide constructive inputs and alternatives forward on how we can solve issues affecting our country rather than just hiding somewhere and throwing mud on the good work some people have sacrificed themselves in doing to bring greater change to the country.”
Wereh concluded the people could be proud that the country now has a better strategy with a clear roadmap to deliver greater and better connectivity to drive change.