It was the general consensus of speakers at the Minister’s Session of the World Road Congress that good governance and strategic public-private partnerships held the key to the development of sound road infrastructure. However, it also emerged that there was no single ideal model that would work for all countries.

It was the general consensus of speakers at the Minister’s Session of the World Road Congress on Monday that good governance and strategic public-private partnerships held the key to the development of sound road infrastructure. However, it also emerged that there was no single ideal model that would work for all countries.


The session, held at the International Conference Centre in Durban on the second day of the event, continued with the theme of achieving sustainable development through the growth of infrastructure. In opening the session, Transport Minister Dullah Omar said that sustainable development was a holistic subject that encompassed not only economic, but also social and environmental issues.


“Our government would delegitimise its road renewal programme if it failed to take into account civil society,” Omar said. “That’s why we require a holistic approach to road maintenance and building, more so because the transport system must keep pace with economic growth.


“Local government structures and community-based organizations are playing an increasingly important role in the development of local and rural roads. Their participation is crucial to ensure that the fundamental needs of the people are met,” he added.


The Canadian delegate, Steve Mahoney, followed up Omar’s comments by saying that Canada’s road network was co-managed by municipalities, provinces and the federal government through a cost-shared infrastructure programme. That system was backed up by independent advisory boards and research partnerships consisting of universities, private companies and stakeholders in various forms if public transport.


Mahoney added that a regulatory framework had been put in place that could revitalize and review the way that sea, air, road and rail transport systems were integrated in Canada and also ensure that each respective mode operated at 100 per cent efficiency.


In the case of China, rapid economic development (primarily due to the liberalisation of trade with the West) had created tremendous challenges for the country’s transport system, delegates were told. The country, which had seen it’s demand for transport increase six-fold since 1982, was facing “many bottlenecks as a result of an insufficient highway system”, a Chinese government spokesman said.


Nevertheless, China had instituted a plan to have a total of three million kilometers of road in 20 years’ time, 70 600 km of which will be highways. The success of the plan, delegates were told, depended on an “effective mechanism” to upgrade roads and the construction of added infrastructure through long-term public-private partnerships.


The French government had 7 500 km of tollroads, which were constructed and maintained by public-private concessionary companies. Toll roads, French official Patric Gandil said, formed part of a modular programme. That meant transit users, many of them from neighbouring European countries, paid most of the cost of new roads instead of only French taxpayers.


The drawback of the system was that private funds could only be spent in road programmes as long as there was a chance of a satisfactory return on investment. “For the system to work there has to be an element of risk sharing and long-term contracts must be based on sound legal principles,” Gandil added.


A spokesman for the Algerian government said that the North African country was currently planning an East/West motorway that would span three countries as well as a Trans-Saharan route that would wipe out trade barriers and link the markets of Southern and Central Africa with Europe.


Although Algeria recognized that the unification of transport networks across the African continent was important to the goal of achieving sustainable development, it was also crucial to ensure that Africans had sufficient access to basic resources and the means to maintain existing infrastructure.


“Roads make the country beautiful, but they must also be safe and cater to the social needs of its people… provide men, women and children access to basic needs, schools, hospitals and so forth,” the spokesman said.


British delegate David Jameson said good governance, with regard to infrastructure development, could be achieved by “devolving decisions and responsibility to local level where appropriate”.


The British government only managed three per cent of the Kingdom’s roads, but had an important role to play in devising road expansion strategies and setting objectives for the rest of the region, Jameson said, adding: “It is a democratic process involving public consultation, although getting many people involved in the decision-making has slowed the process down in the past”.


“By utilizing the expertise and resources of the private sector, in conjunction with a rigorous and transparent tender process, the British government can ensure the best possible return on investment on road programmes,” Jameson said.


But for two governments of developing countries, in this case Tanzania and Kenya, good governance was practically irrelevant because of a severe lack of resources.


A spokesman for the Tanzanian government said that the country’s 85 000 km of roads had been built with the help of World Bank loans, the European Union and Danish Bank funds. The State had instituted measures to root out corrupt officials in the transport department and farmed out road maintenance contracts to private companies, yet “90 per cent of the transport budget was used to maintain roads instead of building new ones”.


In Kenya, “feasibility studies (pre-requisites for road development programmes) had become industries in themselves”, a spokesman for the country’s government said. Kenyan officials had the capacity to conduct their own feasibility studies and design road projects, but “were being hampered by the administration and rules prescribed by funding institutions or countries”.