Bring back ‘pothole brigades’

Graveling along a section of the main Modilon Road near Tusbab Secondary School.

THE Department of Works used to engage small to medium enterprises (SMEs), often small family businesses, to patch potholes, clean up drainage and cut down scrubs along the road sides.
One pothole patching team typically included a small two-tonne dump truck, a wacker packer (hand-operated gravel compactor), spades and crowbars and two to four young men. In some cases, especially urban centres, the pothole brigade had pre-package roadmix sourced from suppliers to seal off the damaged bitumen.
In towns like Port Moresby these SME contractors mending the potholes everyday were nicknamed the “pothole brigade”.
These SMEs or small family businesses are no longer part of our national road maintenance system.
Eleven years ago, I met a civil engineer at the Department of Works provincial branch in Madang town who informed me that the Department had cancelled the pothole patching and basic maintenance contracts that it normally awarded to the SMEs or small family businesses.
The civil engineer told me then that the department cancelled the pothole patching and drainage works contracts to SMEs and family businesses to concentrate on bigger projects involving large contractors.
He said the small contracts such as pothole patching, cleaning up of blocked drains and so forth, would now be done by big companies and not the SMEs or small family operated businesses.
Madang town streets were mostly pothole free at the time the civil engineer said the above to me 11 years ago.
In recent years, the poor condition of the streets of Madang has been a topic of discussion on social media, mainstream media and in other social circles.
Authorities have fixed sections of the Madang town streets on a number of occasions over the last 11 years but the potholes keep returning or extending to other sections.
Today, as I write this, just about all streets of Madang town have potholes and or bitumen has peeled off in various sections. In some areas, gaping holes have emerged.
At this time, the Department of Works provincial branch in Madang is using its machinery to grade and re-gravel sections of the main Modilon Road where the bitumen had peeled off and potholes have emerged.
The emergency maintenance by Works Madang is a temporary reprieve but the potholes return when there is rain. During dry whether passing vehicles kick up clouds of dust much to the discomfort of commuters, the Madang (Modilon) Provincial Hospital, Lutheran School of Nursing Provincial Government offices, shops and residents along the graveled sections of Modilon Road. With the wet season approaching, Works Madang could be fighting a losing battle with the rain between November and April (the duration of the wet season).
The situation with Madang town roads suggests the Department of Works perhaps erred in cancelling the small contracts to the “pothole brigades” who patched potholes and cleaned the drains and embankments before they worsened.
Should authorities decided to upgrade and seal the streets of Madang as a one-off intervention as has been the case in the past, their maintenance and upkeep would be an issue.
This is the same story with much of the newly upgraded and sealed roads nationwide.
As such, the Department of Works ought to reconsider its decision against the SMEs or small family businesses who did wonderfully well keeping the roads free from potholes, land-slips, blocked drains and overgrown embankments.
Sections of Madang town streets affected by the ongoing wear and tear and parts of Modilon Road are being graded and gravelled by Works Madang as a temporary reprieve.

  • Dr Kevin Pamba is based at Divine Word University, Madang.

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