NEW Era journalist Lorraine Kazondovi had a one-on-one interview with the Roads Authority (RA)'s acting Chief Executive Officer, Conrad Lutombi recently. The wide-ranging interview interrogated a variety of topics such as road safety and the integrity of our road network infrastructure, as well as the problems and challenges faced by the RA.
Mr Conrad Lutombi, there is confusion regarding the mandate of the Roads Authority (RA) and that of the Roads Contractor Company (RCC). Could you clarify what sets these two organisations apart?
"The Roads Authority is a non-profit state-owned organisation, which is tasked with the mandate to manage the proclaimed national road network. The management of the proclaimed road network includes, planning, designing, construction and maintenance of the national road network, quality control of materials and supervision of work contracted out, the operation of road management systems, prevention of excessive damage to roads and other functions assigned by the Minister of Works and Transport, which relate to traffic and transport. The management of the national road network is funded from two main sources, namely the road user charges collected by the Road Fund Administration, as well as the State Revenue Fund or parliamentary appropriation and loans.
"The Roads Contractor Company (RCC) on the other hand is also a state owned public company, which is involved in the business of executing the actual work of road construction and maintenance contracts of roads in accordance with sound and generally accepted business principles. In simple terms, the Roads Authority is the custodian of the proclaimed national road network and we contract out the actual work of construction and maintenance of road contracts to the RCC or any other contractor. Thereafter, we supervise the work that we contracted out to the RCC or any other contractor."
In terms of road infrastructure and helping to decrease the current high accident rate, how feasible and realistic is it for the RA to develop Namibia's highways into dual lane roads that separate traffic traveling in opposite directions?
"We are very much concerned about the increase in fatal accidents on our national roads. Apart from other efforts of reducing road crashes on public roads, we are currently busy with an investigation on how to address the safety problems encountered on major trunk roads, especially on how to prohibit crossing of the middle line, thus creating the risk of head-on collision. Our focus is to look at possible improvements to the existing major trunk roads where fatal road accidents are mostly taking place by upgrading these roads to include passing lanes and a separator in between the road to separate the traffic. This exercise may seem to be expensive but it cannot be compared with the costs of road accidents (e.g. cost of loss of bread winners, loss of active people who contribute to the economic development of this country, cost of health care). These improvements will be included in the Windhoek-Okahandja road rehabilitation project."
An improved road network infrastructure in the country would mean improved internal trade, as well as trade with neighbouring countries. What is the RA doing to help Namibia realise this goal?
"We are very much aware that our economy moves on wheels and we are also aware that if Namibia is to become a logistics hub in SADC to support the NDP4 objective of high and sustainable economic growth, we need a very good road network especially roads that form part of the SADC Trunk Road Network to support trade within the SADC Region. Therefore, just this year alone, we have completed major road construction and rehabilitation projects such as Rundu-Elundu linking the northern part of our country to the northeast of the SADC countries such as Zambia, Zimbabwe, Botswana and the DRC via the Trans Caprivi Highway. We have completed the rehabilitation of the Okahandja-Karibib trunk road which forms part of the Walvis Bay-Trans Kalahari Corridor, which links the Port of Walvis Bay to the Gauteng province in South Africa. Phase 1 of the Gobabis-Grootfontein road project has been completed and once phase 2 from Otjinene to Grootfontein is completed, this road will be the shortest link for the northern regions to Botswana and South Africa.
"The Omakange-Iitananga road in the Omusati Region has been completed. This road links the Omusati and Kunene regions. As you may know, the closest tourist attractions in these regions are the Ruacana and Epupa Falls. The upgraded Omakange-Iitananga road will now shorten the route to one of our biggest tourist attractions, which is the Etosha National Park, for tourists coming from the central and western Kunene regions as they will be able to enter the Etosha National Park via Oshakati. I am confident that this newly upgraded road will attract more business and contribute towards achieving regional growth and stability.
"We are also currently busy with the construction of the Tsumeb-Tsintsabis-Katwitwi road linking Namibia to Angola via Katwitwi, and the Kongola-Linyanti-Liselo and Okatana-Endola-Onhuno road projects are progressing well. We have a number of projects for upgrading some gravel roads to bitumen standards which are planned to commence soon, such as phase 2 Othjinene-Grootfontein connecting the northern regions to the Trans-Kalahari Corridor via Gobabis; the Ruacana-Omakange road, which strategically links the northern parts of Namibia to Walvis Bay via Henties Bay; the Omafo-Ongenga-Okalongo-Outapi road, connecting the economic centre of Oshikango and strategically link the northern part of Namibia to Walvis Bay via Henties Bay; the Oranjemund-Rosh Pinah road, which is meant to integrate Oranjemund economically and socially into Namibia. Moreover, there is the Gobabis-Aminuis-Aranos road in the Omaheke Region, this road will serve a large commercial and communal farming area."
What criteria determine which roads need tarring, maintenance or upgrading?
"A road is upgraded from gravel to bitumen standards using a combination of social, economic and engineering inputs. The engineering inputs relate to access, safety, roughness, material properties and traffic. Economic parameters consider the cost of maintaining the existing road/status quo or the cost of improvements to surface compared to the benefit to the public. The benefit is measured in the reduction of vehicle operating costs, which is a function of roughness and the number of vehicles using that road. Furthermore, we have a Road Management System, which is critical in the monitoring of road conditions. With this system we are able to flag the roads that are economically viable and roads that need urgent rehabilitation, re-gravelling and resealing. Identified roads are then prioritised according to the Medium to Long Road Master Plan."
What guarantees do you have for the quality of the materials used in the construction of roads and bridges across the country by both foreign and local contractors? How do you ensure that contractors do abide by the tender specifications and Namibia is not flooded with sub-standard construction materials and receives quality infrastructure that can withstand the test of time?
"The RA has a Quality Control Laboratory, which is responsible for all the quality checks that need to be conducted on all road-building materials that are used in Namibia. The laboratory does quality checks on materials before, during and after construction of any project. A resident engineer, who does process control, thus verifies, validates and approves the works carried out by the contractors and supervises the contractors physically on site. As part of our efforts to control the quality of road works, we are in the process of engaging technical and financial auditing of construction/rehabilitation/upgrading and maintenance projects at all stages. This excise is aimed at, not only controlling the quality of work, but also improving accountability by revealing the quality of the work done, the quantity of the work completed and the timeliness of the work. It is our belief that this exercise will also ensure that as a country we receive value for our money. All our roads are designed and supervised by professionals and are built in accordance with road design standards. We do not accept substandard work and we do not compromise on quality."
Is RA also challenged by an acute shortage of qualified and experienced technical staff to administer, coordinate and oversee the implementation of capital projects? If in the affirmative, how is RA addressing this pressing national challenge?
"The main challenge remains skills shortage of professional engineers in the Roads Authority. This is due to the scarcity and the high demand of this skill, which is exacerbated by the limited number of Namibian and professional engineers in the local labour market. The organisation has a total number of 92 positions for professionally registered engineers and engineering technicians. Only 61 of these positions are occupied of which 23 are occupied by engineering trainees. We are currently short of 31 professionally registered engineers. The Roads Authority has made considerable investments in the education of young Namibian engineering students, as part of our corporate social responsibility.
The Roads Authority has to date awarded 57 bursaries to young Namibians, from previously disadvantaged backgrounds, to pursue various qualifications in the engineering field. To complement this effort, the Roads Authority also provides practical guidance to the students by experienced engineers through 1) Understudy appointments whereby Namibian understudies are identified and assigned to experienced and non-Namibian engineers in order to facilitate the processes of mentoring and the transfer of skills. The Roads Authority has in this year appointed 11 understudies to be mentored by 9 expatriates. 2) A Young Engineer Graduate Development Programme, which assists engineering graduates with necessary practical exposure to help them with their professional registration with the Engineering Council of Namibia. So far all our 23 engineering trainees are undergoing mentorship and practical exposure through this scheme."
What are the most pressing challenges the RA is facing at present and how are you going about dealing with them?
"Like all organisations we do have our own challenges such as the lack of funding for road rehabilitation and maintenance because we are not a profit-making organisation. Some of our challenges include deterioration due to the aging network and the recent damage to our road network due to heavy rains and floods. In an effort to address these challenges and keep the road network in good condition as we continue building new ones, we have recently revised our corporate strategy which focuses on key objectives such as the effective management of the road network as a core responsibility, stakeholder relations and effective service delivery, financial sustainability, governance and strong leadership, as well as strategic human capital enablers. It is our aspiration to have a sustainable road sector, which is ahead of national and regional socio-economic developments in pursuit of Namibia's Vision 2030. When we talk of a sustainable road sector we mean our roads to be responsive and viable to the social needs of the people, we mean our roads to be economically viable to support Namibia's economic growth, we mean our roads to be safe and user friendly for all road users including disabled people."
It appears that action to repair damaged roads takes place only after a natural disaster. Does the RA have an annual budget to address this perennial issue? If so, what is the budget and how are you able to stay within the limits every year?
"Previously we did not make provision for road damage due to natural disasters, since we did not anticipate these disasters. With the floods and recent heavy rains and the road damage of 2010/2011, we approached Cabinet for aid from the Emergency Disaster Fund. However, we have made budgetary provisions in 2013/14 for flood damaged road repairs as most of the roads that were damaged in 2010 are not yet upgraded to withstand the return of the floods. Most of these funds will be used for the repair and upgrading of the damaged roads."