Editorial | An assault on potholes
If the rambunctious Everald Warmington can deliver on his promise to have potholes fixed within 48 hours of being prepared for rehabilitation, he could be celebrated as the government member with the best understanding of what customer service is all about.
Known for his fiery exchanges inside and outside of Parliament, Mr Warmington, who is state minister for works, announced that the National Works Agency (NWA) has been put on notice to deal expeditiously with roadworks such as patching potholes and mending broken manhole covers.
The minister told Parliament that he plans to accomplish this by establishing a $14-million revolving fund. Each parish would be allocated a million dollars to do this work and would, therefore, not need to apply to any central authority for funds. An interesting approach taking into consideration the fact that there is an existing Road Maintenance Fund (RMF) that was established by an Act of Parliament in 2002. The act provides for the establishment of a mechanism for road maintenance funded by the special consumption tax on fuel, loans and grants for periodic upkeep and rehabilitation of main roads implemented through the NWA.
Mr Warmington's $14-million allocation appears to be bypassing the RMF in what he described as cutting through layers of red tape. Depending on who is assessing this move, it could be seen as a smart decision or one fraught with danger. It certainly indicates that some interesting things are happening at the Ministry of Works.
CONSTANT SOURCE OF ANGST
Potholes have become a menace on many roads. Even though the country boasts spanking new highways, many rural roads have been in decay for years. So even though traffic moves efficiently along the various highways, connecting motorists with major townships, roads that carry the overwhelming majority of traffic are being largely ignored. Poor road conditions are a constant source of angst for citizens who take to the media to highlight their frustration.
The decay is not only evident in road surface, but in other infrastructure such as bridges, culverts and retaining walls, which all lack regular maintenance and upgrading work. The NWA has the direct responsibility for maintaining some 5,000 kilometres of main-road network islandwide and about 750 bridges. Lack of resources is often the excuse for not getting repairs done. However, roads must be consistently maintained to guarantee the safe and efficient flow of traffic.
We are not sure what measurements Mr Warmington used to arrive at the conclusion that the allocated sum of $1 million is equitable, given the varying size and likely demand of each parish. However, we are more concerned about accountability of this money, for with decentralisation, proper procedure could also be sidelined for the sake of expediency.
For example, there has to be a mechanism in place to ensure that money is paid for work done and not diverted to the accounts of interested parties. There should also be stringent adherence to acceptable standards in the materials and equipment used for these jobs.
The other area of concern is about the selection of roads to be patched. Party affiliation sometimes plays a huge role in which roads are selected for repairs or upgrading. For example, known supporters of the Opposition party would be denied most services, including proper roads. But we expect the authorities to deliver service to communities with the most pressing needs, whether those constituencies fall in the Government or Opposition column.