It’s very simple logic: Roads demand regular maintenance

01Aug 2020
The Guardian
It’s very simple logic: Roads demand regular maintenance

PRESIDENT John Magufuli was visibly disturbed by the state of the road from Somanga to Dar es Salaam which he was too rough for comfort, implying that it was not being maintained properly or has been neglected for quite a while.

He questioned what bigwigs in Tanroads (Tanzania National Roads Agency) and the ministry concerned – Works, Transport and Communications – have been doing while a highway of that importance was in an unsatisfactory condition.

From a reader’s point of view, what the president saw wasn’t surprising, as it appears to reinforce the fact that we commonly lack a maintenance culture.

This is an oft-stated maxim of how development activity in the country is conducted, in the sense that those in ministerial departments and agencies prefer a project-kind of situation rather than routine work.

That means that a road is planned and built as a project and then it is used in a continuous manner with little or no cash being directed into its maintenance, or not much money being allocated in that direction as there are usually funds for projects but not routine maintenance.

After a while, when the road starts being a public nuisance – for instance, if there is flooding and bridges are swept away, then a project is due.

It is easy to understand why the bureaucracy wants project financing rather than routine maintenance, as only with projects is there room for plenty of auxiliary expertise.

This is, for instance, in relation to feasibility studies, contracting arrangements, advising on what companies can be tendered and their terms of reference, who is appointed in consulting capacity or in execution of works, etc.

All these needs for expertise disappear in routine maintenance work, reduced to a matter of procurement of minor sorts of materials and office-based supervision where transactions are minimal. It is this sort of work they abhor.

There are other drawbacks of road maintenance that catch the public eye, and when the president tells off ministerial executives on the shoddy maintenance or lack of it for a major highway, one can easily see how these remarks apply to newly-built roads.

Admittedly, our various municipalities and other local government authorities are making an effort at regularly removing sand from the edges of newly-built roads, but they don’t seem to be capable of doing the same as regards drainage systems. Shovels and brooms can do with sand, collected in wheelbarrows and safely piled up somewhere, but drainage is much harder to deal with.

As it was the case earlier with shallow dug-up road edge canals that served as drainage, perhaps because the municipal authorities expected no rains at all, the new properly built drainage systems depend on “nature” (specifically, the floods) to clear the dirt that accumulates.

Minor blockages keep pools of dirty water turning green to show that they are an environmental hazard, but luckily there aren’t children along all along such roads.

Still, municipal labourers who are at times hired to clean up the drainage or those who collect plastic bottles in such vicinities run big risks, as they are often unprotected.

Now that the president has demonstrated time and again why it is important for him to inspect public works or facilities – and even routine governance – and without such intervention little appears to be done, solutions are urgently needed.

After a road is built, some agency should be tasked with cleaning, routine maintenance – and, more importantly, ensure that the work is done to satisfaction.

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