Address corruption and other ills in road building and maintenance

Publish: 6:08 PM, August 28, 2022 | Update: 6:08 PM, August 28, 2022

Roads are considered vital for the economy’s growth and development. While this factor calls for maintaining a large networks of roads, only the largeness will not deliver so well if parts of the roads are found to be not so usable or difficult for transporting from insufficient maintenance works .
A big part of the expanded road networks in Bangladesh unfortunately fall in this category of improperly maintained roads. There is noted not enough coordinated activities to keep most of the roads in good working conditions all the time. A crumbling road gets repaired after a long wait but the benefit gets nullified as another turns into pitiable condition around the same time.
According to one estimate the absence of regular maintenance activity alone costs the country in the neighbourhood of $1 million every day in terms of the depreciated value of the roads from wearing and tearing. No estimate is available for the compound loss that occurs from slowed down movement of vehicles, depreciation of vehicles from moving on pot-holed surfaces, delays caused to businesses from inability to reach goods in time, etc. But these estimates, if taken for a period, say even a day, would very likely show up a huge figure.
Thus, proper road building and maintenance need to be ensured through proper plans and their implementation for competitive and cost-efficient operation of the economy. One proposal is there that the government should attempt to set up a ‘road fund’.
Presently, government allocates an amount of money for road maintenance which is not enough compared to the need. Besides, this allocation cannot be also spent in time with best effects because of the present mode of spending through coordinated activities of the Ministry of Communications, Roads and Highways Department (RHD) and the Ministry of Finance.
The road fund can get around several problems namely one of the bureaucracies involved in coordinating activities between three bodies, delays thereof and inadequacy of funds. The suggestion is there to also beef up the recommended road fund by raising greater resources from road users through direct fees, tolls, licence fees, etc. Even foreign aid to the sector may be routed to this fund. The fund should be placed under the RHD for spending from it directly.
In this way, both funds for maintenance shall rise as well as the capacity to undertake immediate works on detection of poor road surfaces or even anticipatory advanced works on this ground. RHD with an autonomous status and the road fund under its control, should go for round the year regular maintenance of the roads and highways than the present system of as and when the need arises.
However, without cracking down on corruption, targets of roads and highways maintenance round the year will not be met fully. It is deeply regrettable that corruption leads to colossal waste in the road building and maintenance activities. The contractors who get contracted through tender bids to take on building and maintenance activities , are found driven by nothing better than super normal profit motive than anything decent.
Thus, the entire processes for such contracts from selection of contractors to supervision of works by government engineers and the clearance of bills, everything seem to be guided by corruption. The government’s supervising engineers remain helpless while facing such corruption and a few who dare to oppose, may risk their lives.
Recently, the press highlighted how a government appointed engineer was hospitalized in Chittagong after his severe beating by gangs set on him by a disgruntled contractor who failed to secure a contract for road building as the engineer would not accept his bribe to award him the contract. Another report highlighted how an arterial road under construction in a national highway is already crumbling down in its so called completed section well before full completion of the work.
The above are symbolic of the corrupt practices that pervade road building and maintenance works in the country. Till such corruptions are thoroughly weeded out from the sector, there can be no hope for us to have durable roads and highways on a lasting basis. The amounts of resources that have been going down the drain-year after year-from allowing such corruptions to go on unpunished, seem astonishingly shocking indeed. It is more than high time to stamp out such corruption with iron hands.