BY DANIEL MAKDWALLO
It is an open secret that efficient and well-maintained transportation systems have been a critical ingredient for the success of the Asian Tigers, thus confirming the view that, very often, all that is needed to develop an area is a good road, a railway, a well-run port or an efficient air transport network.
The rest should thereafter belong to the people with occasional little supplementary input from the Government.
This maxim is reflected in Vision 2030, which lays heavy emphasis on transportation. The next Government must continue with this effort, especially the flagship Lamu-Sudan-Ethiopia Corridor road, a major legacy of the Kibaki Government, which promises to bring unprecedented change to the northern half of our country.
But whether it is the Lamu-Sudan-Ethiopia Corridor road, the Nairobi-Thika road or the bypasses that are to be constructed to decongest Nairobi, it is a truism that initial construction is not the main challenge in these projects. The main challenge is maintenance: unless any of these roads are properly maintained, they will decay rapidly and we will not reap their benefits.
Allow me to point out here that maintenance is not a matter of only after infrastructural projects are completed – it is a before, during and after process. No infrastructural project should become a death trap for Kenyans or their guests at any point of installation. Best-practice safety measures must be in place throughout the project implementation. For the superhighways in particular, no section ought to be in use unless its signage and street-lighting are completely in place. It is my number One concern that Kenyans be safe as they begin to enjoy the use of these improved passages.
We must continue to foster a culture of permanent programmed maintenance because, left unattended, small damages to these roads become larger and ultimately more expensive to fix.
The next Government will be called upon to complete the establishment of a national programme of levies, user fees or toll charges and cross-subsidies to support the maintenance of these roads as part of the integrated national transport policy. At the same time, County Governments will be encouraged to prioritize the creation and maintenance of local road access networks.
Although we have taken major steps to address the problem in the last decade, the carnage on our roads is still high compared to other countries with comparable traffic volumes. Certainly we should continue to improve the quality of the roads, lighting, etc. However, it is my view that we could reap handsome dividends in the form of fewer accidents and deaths on our roads if all of us obeyed rules that have long been on the books. Failure to observe existing rules accounts for more accidents and deaths than we wish to acknowledge. A vehicle on the road after dark without rear lights or even brake lights is an accident looking for a place to happen and should not be allowed.
Safety on our roads would be greatly enhanced if violations of existing rules were painfully discouraged. To that end, the challenge of the next Government will be to enforce the new National Road Safety Programme and to direct our safety officers to prioritise curtailing behavior that is risky or reckless. The emphasis on transportation in Vision 2030 also means that we must prioritise safety.
Properly operated, a railway system is still cost-effective in moving goods except the most time-sensitive. Accordingly, the ongoing efforts to privatise and revitalise our railway system should be supported so that it can play a larger role in the economy.
The next Government will support the on-going modernisation of Jomo Kenyatta International airport, upgrading Kisumu International Airport, improving Wilson Airport, and rehabilitating airstrips.
We will seek appropriate turnkey partners for the building of Kenya’s crucial Greenfield airport projects, including all phases – feasibility, financial, capital, planning, engineering and operations.
Kenya Airways has secured a prominent position among African airlines. A more effective domestic air travel network will consolidate this lead. However, air transport as a tool for development requires a significant market. To be truly effective air transport will have to be developed on an eastern African-wide scale. The next Government should therefore be open to every opportunity to co-operate in the context of the Eastern African Community in the development of an efficient region-wide air transport system, particularly through application of the Public Private Partnerships (PPP) paradigm.
PPPs in public infrastructure operate in an environment that is markedly different from the time when governments exclusively owned and operated the facilities financed by tax revenues. My Government will ensure private investors achieve the agreed levels of financial, delivery and maintenance performance.
(Amb. Daniel Makdwallo is a Policy Advisor – Party of Action (POA)