Poor road network haunts Lesotho

NEO SENOKO

MASERU – Poor road infrastructure, coupled with absence of sufficient political will to rehabilitate current networks continues to dog the country.

This came out on Wednesday when Minister of Finance Dr Moeketsi Majoro was delivering the budget speech for the fiscal year 2020/21 with estimates that appeared to ignore that the provision of infrastructure. Notably roads, bridges, electricity and water are critical for addressing human development needs as well as catalysing much needed productive investments.

Majoro revealed government was facing a painful challenge regarding road construction in the country; citing limited resources, a constrained budget and lack of funding as the main reasons for the lethargy in this department.

According to the minister, no less that M12 billion will be needed to rehabilitate the current networks. Desperate rural communities have complained for years about poor service delivery across the board, and road infrastructure maintenance tops the list of grievances.

The popular belief is that those that are elected to power from respective villages fail to carry out mandates and easily fall prey to corruption along the way. As a result, the majority of Lesotho’s unpaved road network remains in poor state due to inadequate levels of maintenance and limited absorption capacity of local contractors.

The main transportation infrastructure in Lesotho is an 8 000km road network which accounts for 70 percent of the country’s transport system. The vast majority of the roads are made of gravel while a smaller percentage is paved.

The gravel and earth roads are often vulnerable to extreme weather conditions and the hilly, winding roads make navigating through Lesotho quite difficult. One of Lesotho’s biggest issues with road transport is lack of safety.

Previous World Bank reports had suggested that out of the 8 000km road network, only 2 500km is paved. Around two-thirds of the total land area of 30 350 square kilometres comprises rugged, mountainous landscape. The rugged highlands continue to challenge the expansion of road infrastructure as well as the maintenance of the existing network.

Delivering the fourth budget of the current coalition government Majoro stated firmly that government was struggling with the road network, emphasising further that there is never enough funding for new roads and maintenance at the same time.

“A programme of building new roads comes at the expense of maintenance of the existing road networks. Maintenance of the existing network comes at the expense of building new roads,” he noted.

“To date, the government’s policy has been to build new roads and consequently to underfund maintenance. The result has been severely damaged roads that will not live up to their designed lifespan and will cost, it is estimated, no less that M12 billion to rehabilitate the current network,” Majoro said on Wednesday.

He said government is now facing the difficult question of the trade-off between maintenance and new investments in road construction. Mulling over this conundrum, he said government is assessing bundling of new road tenders with maintenance plans for whoever wins the tenders. This, the minister added, will ensure that construction companies consider the risks of poor workmanship during construction.

For gravel roads, government is considering introducing the use of perma-zyme (soil stabilisers) bonding materials in the construction unpaved roads in order to increase their durability and maintenance.

The issue of poor road infrastructure has negative implications on economic growth while roads and road transport remain the backbone of Lesotho’s transport system. But at ground level, it cuts even deeper for those that are in the transport industry.

Over the years, players in the industry have been struggling to remain in business as they struggled to maintain their property to remain in good shape, week in and out.

In the past, owners have been complaining that poor roads and lack of rehabilitation in and around Maseru is killing their business as they have to spend the little that they bank as profit on car service and maintenance, a situation which could have been different with proper and up to standard roads.

This, they have said, is one of the many reasons commuter transport operators want to increase taxi fares in order to remain in business. The last taxi fare increase was back in 2018 – which saw prices being increased from M6.00 to M7.50 and M8.00 for 4×1 taxis.

This was the first increase in more than a decade. In April this year, just two years later, taxi operators have already proposed yet another increase and it remains to be seen whether their proposal get the nod or not. While it appears to be all doom and gloom, efforts are being made to mitigate some of the long standing challenges.

The Ministry of Public Works has introduced the concept of a national orbit which entails a paved road network around the country across all the 10 districts to promote easier road communication with the attendant human development benefits as well as tourism and agriculture promotion.

During this financial year, the ministries of finance and public works will look at how these orbit concepts can be financed.

The ministry is responsible for infrastructure provision and maintenance as well as creating an enabling environment for the private sector to develop efficient, cost effective and safe transport services.

In addition, the Ministry of Local Government is currently rehabilitating and upgrading 46.7km of roads in Maputsoe, Mohalalitoe and Ha Tšosane-Sekamaneg, which will be completed in the coming fiscal year. The construction of Marakabei-Monotša and Mpiti-Sehlaba-thebe roads is also progressing satisfactorily.

As part of the need to raise adequate funding for road maintenance, cabinet approved in 2018 that toll rates would be reviewed regularly to keep up with the cost of road maintenance. New Class One (light Motor vehicles) rates will rise from M40 to M45.

Class Two, (medium to heavy vehicles) rates will be increased from M80 to M85 while for Class Three (large to heavy vehicles) rates went up from M120 to M125. Lastly, M295 will be charged for extra-large and heavy vehicles, up from M280 in the previous financial year.

 

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