MANAGEMENT AND FINANCING OF ROAD MAINTENANCE
17 TO 20 SEPTEMBER 1996
Conference Room 2, Level 2, United Nations Conference Centre (UNCC), Bangkok
Road Infrastructure is a key element of the enabling environment in the Asia and Pacific region. It supports industry and commerce, and provides the only form of access to most rural communities. Despite the importance of the road sector, many of the region's roads are poorly managed, badly maintained, and suffer from large backlogs of deferred maintenance.
During the past several years, many countries have attempted to address the issue of unsustainable maintenance policies. Many have focused on setting up commercially managed road funds, introducing private sector financing of toll roads, restructuring and commercialization of their road agencies, have emphasized contracting out of maintenance, and have even started contracting out the planning and management of parts of their road networks.
Such an approach is new to the ESCAP region. They have primarily been developed in other parts of the world, both in developed and developing countries. The Road maintenance Initiative (RMI), promoted by the UN Economic Commission for Africa and the World Bank and funded by the donor community, is an example of one of the ongoing reform programs which might usefully be applied to the ESCAP region.
This seminar was therefore planned with the objective of sharing international experience with member states of ESCAP and to consider whether the reforms from other regions might be applicable to Asia and the Pacific. The seminar also examined how these reforms might be transferred to the Asian environment. It was jointly organized by ESCAP and the World Bank in cooperation with the German Agency for Technical Cooperation (GTZ) and the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC).
The management and financing of road maintenance not only involves road administrators and engineers. It also requires the active involvement of other key ministries like finance, Prime Ministers office, local government and planning, together with road users and the business community. It was therefore decided to invite a wide spectrum of officials and professionals to participate in the seminar.
The following paragraphs summarize the substance of the deliberations which took place during the seminar.
1. Financing for road maintenance
The issue of financing road maintenance is summarized under three main themes:
1.1 Adequate funding
Two main themes emerged; the first focused on improving financing through the existing government budgetary framework, while the second emphasized the creation of a new financial approach.
Some delegates felt that additional funds could be provided through the government budget by reallocation of funds or by raising additional revenues. A view was also expressed that additional funds for maintenance could be sourced by reallocating funds from capital works to maintenance and through the improved planning of works.
The general consensus of the meeting was that countries needed to seriously consider creating a commercially managed road fund to finance maintenance of existing road assets. The fund needed to have an appropriate management structure and a firm legislative base. However, there was some disagreement over how the fund should be managed. Some delegates felt that management could be done through existing government structures while others supported a representative public-private management board which was seen as an essential precondition for winning public support for more road maintenance funding.
The meeting indicated that road fund revenues could come from a road tariff comprising additional fuel taxes, vehicle licence and registration fees the increase in property values associated with road works, a levy on agricultural produce (particularly for maintenance of village access roads), roads tolls, a levy on bus passenger and freight charges, and supplementary passenger licences. Cost sharing at the local level may also be considered as a means of expanding the revenue base. It was important to ensure that all concerned parties, including government ministers, officials, road users and the private sector as a whole were fully aware of the concept of a commercially managed road fund.
1.2 Road user involvement
It was felt that road users could play an important role in raising awareness, demonstrating the importance of sound road maintenance policies, enforcing the regulatory framework, strengthening accountability and participating in road management. To be effective, they need to be organized into road user associations and should work closely with both road agencies and the government.
Awareness could be raised by explaining the role of roads in economic and social development, the impact of better maintenance on vehicle operating costs and the importance of the road sector in creating income and employment. They might do this through active participation in workshops and seminars, and by promoting public awareness through use of the mass media. To demonstrate the importance of sound road maintenance policies, road users would need to ensure that the benefits of such policies were passed on to the public (particularly to users of public transport) and that journey times and vehicle emissions were reduced. Conversely, poor road maintenance policies would lead to increased vehicle operating costs which could be passed on to the public.
Road users also have an important role to play in the following areas:
1.3 Channeling funds
It was felt that any attempts to create secure financing presupposes government commitment to maintenance of roads.
The key conclusion from this discussion was that secure channeling required the establishment of an independent road fund with its own dedicated account. In the first instance the existing allocations for roads could be deposited into the account. The management of the fund should consider increasing the revenues by raising road user charges. It would have to be supported by clear financial rules and regulations governing management and control of funds and may need to be supported by legislation.
The relationship between the managers of the funds and the various line agencies and ministries would have to be clearly defined and there should also be safeguards to prevent diversion of funds. One way of providing such safeguards could be through the appointment of a representative management board. This would ensure road user involvement in prioritization of works and monitoring implementation. To ensure transparency and accountability, the road fund would need to establish independent internal and external auditing procedures and would have to evaluate its financial performance and publish regular financial statements.
2. Management and maintenance of inter-urban roads
Any attempts to deal with this issue will require firm government commitment and stable financing as a precondition for any successful management arrangements.
It was felt that solutions had to deal simultaneously with several aspects. The first step would be to clearly define the responsibilities of the various agencies involved. This should cover the responsibility for urban, rural and regional roads, the role of different levels of government and the functions of policy development and implementation of works. A clear definition of responsibilities will also have to be accompanied by better arrangements for coordinating all road sector activities.
In the case of the main roads, the road agency might be restructured to create an autonomous, commercially oriented highway agency. The restructuring should also be accompanied by efforts to built capacity. These efforts should focus on improved management systems, better road inventories and information databases. There was also a need to strengthen local consultants, choose appropriate maintenance technologies (eg labor vs equipment) and adopt training programs for both management and staff.
Restructuring would probably lead to greater involvement of the private sector in service delivery. They could be involved in executing maintenance contracts, and in supervising and executing works. They could also assist with planning and programming of maintenance works. Compulsory competitive tendering could also be introduced for maintenance works. These reforms should be complimented by programs designed to strengthen the local consulting and construction industry.
Implementation of the above reforms would be facilitated by better enforcement of road regulations, extended planning horizons and greater involvement of road users in management, perhaps through a roads board.
3. Management and maintenance of rural roads
There was a strong feeling that secure financing was a precondition for any successful innovations in this area. It was felt that, if there was a road fund, part should be set aside for rural roads. Funds should be channeled to help poorer communities and financial incentives should be structured to encourage them to mobilize local resources. To the extent possible, fiscal authority be devolved to local government.
The main conclusion from this discussion was that local communities should be involved in all aspects of road planning, construction and maintenance. This would create a sense of ownership with rural communities taking responsibility for their own local roads. The community should be represented on national roads boards or other forms of local road user groups. More authority should be delegated to the local level and more effort should be made to build up technical capacity.
The role of government should be more clearly defined in relation to rural roads and should cover coordination, preparation of policy guidelines and development of specifications and quality standards. Government should also define the legal status of rural roads.
Options to build local government and road agency capacity include:
Complimentary actions should focus on improving local level planning, decentralizing decision making to the extent possible, improving the balance between construction and maintenance spending, and developing long-term maintenance strategies. There was also a need to ensure appropriate design and construction standards, and related maintenance interventions. All of these should be supported by an appropriate monitoring and feedback mechanism.
4. The way forward
The following initial steps were identified to facilitate the implementation of the above reforms: