CONNECTIVITY AT A CROSSROADS



The Universal Rural Roads Access Programme (URRAP), under Ethiopia's Growth & Transformation Plan (GTP), is lagging far behind targets in many regions across the country. Indeed, the Somali and Afar regions are yet to begin implementing the project, with just one year of the programme remaining. The objectives of the URRAP were to benefit all kebeles with standard and affordable all-weather roads, providing year round access. It was hoped that this would improve the market integration of rural communities and enhance opportunity in the provision of social services, as well as providing local job opportunities. The implementation of the programme has, however, stumbled, with the initial labour-intensive approach proving inefficient and unsustainable reports ABDI TSEGAYE, FORTUNE STAFF WRITER.


The Ethiopian 2010/11 fiscal year was a time of promise and challenging opportunities for Ephrem Mezgebu, a civil engineer. This was the year the government announced one of its grand programmes in line with the Growth & Transformation Plan (GTP) – the Universal Rural Roads Access Programme (URRAP).

It was the commencement of this programme that brought great opportunity, through its localised and labour intensive approach.

As one major component of the fourth round Rural Sector Development Programme (RSDP-IV), the URRAP envisages connecting all kebeles with standard and affordable all-weather roads, providing year round access. Within the programme implementation period, from 2010/11 to 2014/15, it is planned to construct 71,523km of all-weather roads throughout the country at an estimated cost of close to 27 billion Br. The comprehensive implementation of this vast road development plan will ensure close to 80pc of the total rural population benefits from year round road access – a huge improvement from just 27pc when the programme was launched – according to the programme document.

Under the RSDP, the government plans to construct a total of close to 87,000km of roads, comprising of 4,332km of federal roads and 11,212km of regional roads, as well as the access roads planned under the URRAP. The plan, including the URRAP, aims to increase the country’s all-weather road coverage from 48,793km in 2010/11 to 135, 811km by the end of 2014/15. This will increase the road density in the country from 44.4km/1000sqm at the beginning of the programme to 123.6km/sqm by the end of the current fiscal year.

The increase of road networks in the country is also set to raise the road density of the country in terms of population. It targeted tripling the 0.58 km/1000 population in the year 2010/11 to 1.46km/1000 population by the end of the programme period. The programme has also targeted reducing the average distance between roads from the 11.2km it was in 2010/11 to three kilometres by the end of 2014/15.

On top of these objectives for infrastructural development – which are intended to create improved market integration of rural communities, as well as enhanced opportunity in the provision of social services – the URRAP also has another key aim.

Graduates of engineering with a minimum of four year’s professional experience were encouraged to organise themselves into groups of four and three, respectively, to become contractors and consultants. They could then setup enterprises that would benefit from the 27 billion Br allocated for the programme.

As a result, around 944 contractors and 271 consulting enterprises had been created under the URRAP programme by the 2013/14 fiscal year.

Boke Construction Enterprise, a fifth grade road contractor (RC-5), is one of such construction enterprises. It was established by Ephrem, who also serve as the general manager, and three others under the auspices of the Oromia Roads Authority (ORA).

Beginning the work in 2011/12, Boke Construction finalised the construction of a 35km road in Boke Woreda of the Western Hararge Zone, Oromia region. They are also working on nine additional kilometres in the same woreda, where Ephrem has taken up residence.

A year after their establishment in 2011/12, around 469 construction enterprises operating in the region were provided with 366 Sino Trucks and other machineries. Boke has got its share of the Sino Trucks, two tractors with carts and a medium roller. The distribution of machinery to the enterprises may vary, however, according to a manager of another enterprise working in the East Wellega Zone’s Diga Wereda, who does not want to be identified by name. They have received three tractors with carts, a Sino Truck, a roller, a towed grader and a towed loader.

Receiving a contract worth around 400,000Br a kilometre – an amount closer to the originally estimated cost of the construction – Boke has worked on the first 12km of road with extensive labour. This has proved expensive, leading to the government’s measure of providing them with the machinery on the condition of purchase on lease.

“It is good to start small and from below,” says Ephrem. “The first year of work was very challenging and came with many hardships, both in terms of labour costs and transportation.”

With one year remaining, a total of 39,056km of roads have been constructed so far under the programme, raising the national road network from the 48,797km in 2010 to 85,966km in 2013. Nonetheless, the average total performance for the four years stood at 54.6pc – far behind the initial target.

In addition to the lag in performance in terms of the total length of the roads, the estimated cost of the programme has significantly increased.

Despite the 32,467km left to be constructed this year, the remaining budget is only 6.9 billion Br from an estimated 19.2 billion Br disbursed by the government so far.

One of the major reasons for the increased expense is the inability to implement the project in accordance with its original terms, according to the majority of consultants and contractors that Fortune talked to.

Originally, the plan was to be implemented as a labour intensive and localised venture, targeting a 70pc contribution from the community, both through labour and finance, according to Abiy Eguwale, a member of the Regional Roads Support Team at the ERA, which coordinates and supervise the programme at the national level.

Except for Tigray region, which effectively applied the formula, the use of labour as a community contribution was not implemented in other regions, he said.

“It was unthinkable with labour,” Ephrem recalls. “The cost was very high, in addition to the difficulty of transporting the vast number of labourers daily between their home and the site.”

The Somali and Afar regions are still yet to embark on the implementation of the programme, which has assigned a total of 3,001km and 1,800km of roads to them each respectively. Harari, Dire Dawa and Tigray are the highest performers, with 252pc, 81.8pc and 76.8pc achievement, respectively, over the past four years.

The Harari region, which w¬as originally meant to construct 50km of roads under the URRAP, has in fact constructed 126km, spending 125 million Br more than the originally allocated 18 million Br. The Dire Dawa city administration managed to construct 130km out of the planned 159km, disbursing 86 million Br – up by 15 million from the originally allocated budget. Left with 580km to be constructed in the 2014/15 fiscal year, the region has also disbursed 125 million Br more than the originally allocated budget of one billion Br.

Except for the Somali and Afar regions, the Benishangul-Gumuz and Gambella regions are the lowest performers under the programme. The former stands at 13.3pc performance out of the total 1,800km it was supposed to construct. It has disbursed a total of 227 million Br out of a total budget of 630 million Br.

In addition to the reduced usage of labour in the construction process, some of the contractors attribute the lag in performance and increased expenditure to a variety of different problems. These include – the way the teams were initially organised, under budgeting, an overly standardised specification, maladministration at the woreda and zonal level, inexperience and topographic challenges.

“There are times when payment takes as long as three months,” says Yoseph Haile, who was organised under Yego Consulting Plc with two others. “In addition to the occasional shortage of budget, there are also issues with finding qualified experts at the woreda level.”

With 14 years of professional experience in road construction, self employment is now over for Yosef, who is currently working as a drainage engineer at the Addis Abeba City Roads Authority (AACRA).

Yosef also claims that the issue of quality, which caused conflict and disagreements between the contractors and woreda level administration on the one hand and on the other the consultants, was a key problem.

“When the consultants take quality based measures, the woreda administration interferes,” he said. “This has caused quality problems on the roads so far constructed.”

This is, however, not acceptable to Hailu Yadata, head at the office of the Sasiga Woreda Roads Authority, who has terminated the consultancy deal with Yosef’s company.

“The consultants were not making regular follow-ups on progress,” Hailu claims. “They were not performing their duty.”

Another consultant from the Benishangul-Gumuz region, Nega Chere – a member of Tikur Abay Consulting Engineers, which has been supervising Boro Travel Construction on 20km road projects in one of the regional woredas and another two contractors on 40km road projects in two other woredas – also agrees with Yosef.

“The roads were handed over to the regional administration without drainage,” he told Fortune. “The management has also instructed the contractors to leave the structural works alone.”

He also sees a problem on the contractors’ side, most of whom were not known to each other when categorised under the same group to establish a construction company.

“Most of the contractors have a visible experience gap at working in the sector,” according to Nega. “There were also problems with site selection during the inception of the programme.”

With the nature and character of the challenges facing the programme, in addition to the programme’s actors varying from place to place at differing level of complexities, Ephrem and his partners decided to buy an excavator for 1.7 million Br, as well as a second Sino Truck worth 600,000 Br – half of which was financed by a bank loan. They have now also repaid around 35pc of the costs of the machineries they were provided with by the regional government.

The construction cost for a kilometre was reduced to around 200,000 Br in 2012/13, he said. The government later changed its strategy to support the project with small-scale machines and equipment.

“There is a shortage of construction material at our site and this unit price was not profitable,” he claims. “If you do not have personal strength, the work is very difficult. It demands commitment and sacrifice.”



By ABDI TSEGAYE
FORTUNE STAFF WRITER

Published on August 24, 2014 [ Vol 15 ,No 747]


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