Audit all infrastructure projects

Editorial, Normal

The National, Thursday October 10th, 2013

 WHEN it comes to the construction and or upgrading of roads in the country’s industrial capital, it seems our best engineering minds cannot get it right the first time.  

We appreciate the fact that Lae city’s geology and weather are not as stable and predictable as in Port Moresby. 

However, one fails to see how despite the best political intentions and commercial undertakings, there is still that problem of not getting money’s worth. 

Building in Port Moresby, one does not take long to hit the bedrock and start erecting multi-storey office or accommodation complexes. 

And roads in the capital city, by and large, last longer than those in Lae. 

Not so for Lae roads, which never cease to make the news. One day it is all good news –  millions of kina allocated for a “once and for all” construction solution for the city roads.  

A few minutes pass by and the roads have reverted to their previous or a worse state and there is nothing to show for the millions of kina spent.

Millions of kina already have been spent on the city roads in the past few years but more work needs to be done still. 

There has to be a stop to the flow of money down the drain.  

The issue of Lae roads is again in the news with exchanges and counterclaims between Morobe Governor Kelly Naru and Works Minister Francis Awesa about the existence of K100 million sitting in some trust account somewhere in Lae. 

Despite Awesa’s affirmation that there is such money if only Naru checked with his provincial administration, Naru, on the other hand, denies outright there is such money.

Whatever the truth, this exchange between the leaders is further indication of our inability to fix the Lae roads fiasco once and for all.  Or can we? 

And comments from knowledgeable Papua New Guineans, some in the road construction business, that Lae and Morobe are not getting money’s worth, do not help the situation.

Last week Prime Minister Peter O’Neill ordered an inquiry into whether the K800 million contract for a stretch of road, a super highway, between the city and Nadzab airport is a proper price for the project. 

To be investigated with that would be the K399 million contract for the Togoba to Kisenepoi road, in the Highlands.

“We want an independent team to review the cost and design of the projects, given that the prices are quite high,” O’Neill said.

“In initiating this review, we are in no way trying to undermine the professionalism and efforts of our public servants.  

“They have done a tremendous job.” 

If the public servants had done a tremendous job, who then should be held accountable if investigations do reveal that the costing for these projects are indeed excessive?

What will happen if the ‘independent’ review does find that public servants are those at fault?

Surely they cannot be disciplined if the prime minister believes they have done a tremendous job.

A letter writer in yesterday’s paper, who claims to be an engineer, says the costing for the Lae-Nadzab road seems over-inflated.

For him, a costing of K30m for the 8km stretch of road work would be more realistic. 

Going by the prime minister’s statement, the government is undertaking a lot of infrastructure work throughout the country and it is important that prices for these projects are correct.  

What should be of concern is that in its state of perceived largesse, the government might inadvertently be overspending on projects. 

And what is worse, those experts tasked with ensuring that the country get’s money’s worth, seem to fall asleep on their jobs because of vested interests.

This calls for professionals like accountants and engineers in procurement and quantity assessment directly involved in government spon­sored infrastructure de­velopment stand up to any force other than a honest desire to get the best job done at a just cost to the public.

Audits of all government infrastructure projects by the PNG Institute of Engineers would be a step in the right direction as that would ensure professionalism at all times so questions of costing and workmanship would not be asked as often as is the case now.