The provision of quality road network has been a core feature of the touted achievements of present and past central governments. The brags are however short-lived in the absence of good maintenance plans.
PROBLEMS OF THE CURRENT SITUATION
The hefty cost of the construction and reconstruction of roads stagnates the progress of the nation. Spending in the venture encompasses the initial allotment of funds to construct the roads afresh, the unfortunate allotment of funds to scrap the deteriorating roads and the final allotment of funds to reconstruct the same network normally at a higher price influenced by economic trends.
In the absence of such repetitive disbursements, such funds could have been rechanneled into the construction of good potable drinking water, educational facilities and other social amenities.
Bad roads have also nipped many lives. Exercising due care on such roads slow down travel times. This affects the commodity market especially the market for perishable goods. The poor nature of the roads also serves as a working environment for criminals.
MAINTENANCE CULTURE IN ROAD CONSTRUCTION
Maintenance culture is an unending practice of conducting regular checks and minor fixes on established amenities. Practically, the culture of maintenance of our roads will include periodic checks for defects, creating complaints reception channels and quick responses to fix defects. The life span of roads will be eventually lengthened. This position is however not foreign to road and transport policymakers. The implementation though has never seen the light of the day.
The closest to maintenance culture is the informal retrofitting activities of the unskilled youth in several communities. The activity, though laudable, is fraught with several challenges. One of which is the absence of approved tools and equipment. The only available materials for the fixing are sand and stones which sometimes causes more damage to vehicles and roads.
Be it as it may, the youth only engage in such activities due to issues of unemployment. Even if they had all of such tools and equipment, there is no legal duty owed towards road users to keep the roads safe. They earn meagre tokens from generous road users and gladly move on when they obtain employment.
INSTITUTIONALIZING THE CULTURE; THE THREE FORMS
In the interest of the general public, the best option for the country is to institutionalize maintenance culture. The institutionalization, in my opinion, can be initiated in three forms; a legislative instrument, a primary contract or an ad hoc contract.
The legislative route arguably the best route is already in force. The Ghana Highways Authority is duty-bound to discharge the activity according to Section 3h of the Ghana Highway Authority Act, 1997.
The usage of a primary contract regime to institutionalize maintenance culture is not new to our jurisdiction. This involves the creation of clauses imposing on contractors the duty to maintain roads even after completion of the main project.
The last institutionalizing option is the usage of ad hoc contracts. Ad hoc contracts are mainly subsidiary contract signed to support a main contract on specific obligations. It involves the creation of contractual relation with a third party. The duty of the third-party contractor will be to conduct regular checks on the constructed roads.
MERITS OF THE USE OF ADHOC MAINTENANCE AGENCIES
As against the legislative duty of the Ghana Highway Authority, it is undeniable that the Authority has failed to match up to the expectations of road users. Enforcement proceeding against the Authority is tantamount to proceeding against the state. Thus, it is difficult to apportion the liability to a particular group of persons. Direct control by the central government affects the discharge of the obligation, especially within the partisan politics environment.
The usage of skillful legal drafting in main contracts to achieve the culture of maintenance is arguably equally effective. The only setback, however, is that the constructor can mostly rely on any breach by the Highway Authority to delay their due on the contract. This can be minimized by skillful drafting but not completely prevented.
The problem of delaying payment to contractors will also hover around. There are many examples of contractors abandoning their main projects. Engaging same persons to discharge maintenance duties may be unworkable in the face of already existing problems.
The ad hoc regime is easily enforceable as it is against a private entity bound by contractual ties. Contracts can be negotiated for longer periods to evade the influence of partisan politics for consistency and continuity. Payments can be made on post-performance terms to compel compliance to the contractual terms. In the interest of the citizenry, the state will be in a better bargaining position against local firms competing against each other. This has the potential to bring the best out of the engaged firm.
In the long run, the policy will increase demand for construction materials and equipment. Good structuring will affect positively the road construction industry as a whole.
Huge sums of money are invested into the provision of good transport systems which can be avoided. To speed up development in the country there is the need to cut down expenses by adopting the culture of maintenance.
Institutionalizing the culture in the road construction industry is the first step to a developmental jackpot. Engaging the services of adhoc maintenance firms to discharge the duty hits the development agenda in the bull’s eye.
By Nana Kwaku Boadu-Boadu
Proofread by Kweku Attakorah Dwomoh (ESQ)
Msc Economic Analysis Candidate at The Corvinus Egyetem Budapesti