Highways run into bureaucratic jam



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By Rohan Abeywardena


The government’s aim to provide funding for maintenance of the existing national road network, running to some 11,000 kilometres, through the Road Maintenance Trust Fund (RMTF), in a strictly professional and efficient manner, appears to have run into a bureaucratic road block and the RMTF has been unable to take off the ground for the last several months. Each year, the government alone sets aside about Rs. 50 billion for road maintenance.


According to those familiar with the issue, even the World Bank has come forward to assist in the endeavour to set up the RMTF as the existing system of handling road maintenance work, by the Road Development Authority, needed further improvement with independent and efficient expertise. President Rajapaksa, realizing the need for those reforms, even shifted the RMTF from the Finance Ministry to the Highways Ministry last year since "the subject was not on the top of the Treasury agenda".


Top officers fear that ten million dollars pledged to the RMTF, by the World Bank, over a three-year period, might be lost as a result of such bureaucratic bungling, but the World Bank’s Infrastructure Specialist in Colombo, Amali Rajapaksa, however assured that if this year’s component of roughly US$ 3,000,000 is not disbursed it can be extended along with the next two years’ components. The entire sum of US$10,000,000 will automatically return to the bank only if the sum is not drawn within the stipulated three years.


Officials also said because of such bungling other donors were shying away from coming forward to assist in such vital sectors.


According to insiders, a top woman bureaucrat is holding up the whole process by failing to put her signature to any of the vital documents she needs to sign.


Sources said that even the three trustees appointed to the board of this trust have so far not met as the woman bureaucrat, who chairs it, has failed to summon a meeting.


One senior official said even the amended Deed of Trust has still not been signed by the top bureaucrat.


Similarly, the Secretariat of the Trust, which is earmarked to be operational from the third floor of the Highways Ministry, is still not functioning, all because not a single official, out of the four required for it, has been appointed.


Since they did not want the RMTF to be a costly bureaucracy and its administration costs kept to a minimal, it is to be manned by two technical experts, one financial expert and one secretary/Managing Director.


Meanwhile, its vital Technical Consultancy Assistance agreement, which had been modified several times and given about six months ago, has still not been signed. Under the agreement, the technical consultants are to prepare a whole gamut of guidelines for its functioning, including the tackling of haphazard digging of roads by a plethora of government establishments, road selection system to ensure that there is no favouration as now often happens, technical efficiency of maintenance etc.


Repeated attempts to contact the Secretary to the Ministry of Highways, Sujatha Cooray, in this regard proved futile. It was always a case of the ‘madam’ being very busy. We were also directed to an Additional Secretary, but that number was never answered.


 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
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