Sunday , 23 June 2024
If I said it once, I?ve said it a million times. Communication lines represent the best way to speed up development. Is the Minister of Public Works making it a personal crusade? So much the better!

Highways: A sizable challenge for the leadership

Highways and communication lines are generally among the key concerns of the new regime, as well as the financial sponsors, including the World Bank, and the European Union. The government would like to see highways which are good enough to allow goods and people to move about freely, and thus encourage a speedy cooperative development. Consequently, Jean Lahiniriko, the Minister of Public Works, promised the National Assembly that approximately 7,000 to 8,000 kilometers will be built or restored very shortly. About 30,000 kilometers of highways are currently being surveyed.

Constructing, restoring, and maintaining highways are essential to development because of the isolation of several areas with strong agricultural potentials, and the risks this represents for respecting even the most basic rights in times of crises, or during natural disaster situations. To this effect, the Minister of Public Works is trying to convince the financial sponsors that it is wise, and sound to create a new government body whose responsibility will be to finance the reconstruction of highways which do not qualify under the present Fonds d?Entretien Routier (FER) or Highway Maintenance Fund; the funds will apparently come from fuel, and automobile excise tax revenues; it will be called Fonds d?Investissement Routier (FIR) or Highway Investment Fund.

It is a known fact that FER will only maintain the highways, i.e. fill in the potholes, clear up debris, and open up the drainage canals. It is also a know fact that, of the 50,000 kilometers of highways which have been surveyed, only 8 to 10% will qualify for FER funds. Moreover, one must admit that the mandatory 5% community contribution is often difficult to honor for most of the rural communities whose entire budget amounts to a mere 1,700 Euros. A Public Works Engineer states, ?When you know that the maintenance or the restoration of one kilometer of highway costs almost 8,500 Euros, and that there are 10 kilometers to restore, the challenge is far from being met.?

Jean Lahiniriko raised another issue when he announced that he would like to build highways which will meet international standards: it involves the enterprises which will compete for the project. Many suspect a critical gap which those behind some ten monopoly-oriented Colas (French Public Works Enterprises, now present in Madagascar) could exploit, to the detriment of small and medium sized companies. The National Institute of Infrastructures regularly train Public Works operators and entrepreneurs, but they have neither the equipment, nor the appropriate means for undertaking large projects. Other strategies and other avenues to explore?

Translated by J. F. Razanamiadana