BY GUEST WRITER
While we continue the endless bemoaning the appalling state of our national roads, it must also be highlighted that the World Bank through its structural adjustment program in the 1990s directly contributed to the deterioration of our roads.
Many fail to see that the reason for the inability of the Works Department to do their job is due to the World Bank’s structural adjustment program our government agreed to in the “reform decade” of the 1990s. Prior to that, it was the Works Department’s primary role to construct and maintain roads in Papua New Guinea. Senior works officers agree that Papua New Guinea’s roads were well maintained until the works department began pulling back its maintenance teams.
The reforms shifted the works department’s role of construction and maintenance to monitoring and supervision. According to the World Bank, that was meant to spur private sector growth. Over the years, successive governments implemented significant cost cutting measures that removed the construction and maintenance capacity of the works department. The World Bank was pleased yet again, that one more country that was heavily in debt had been forced into submission.
Put all this under the microscope and you see that the PNG government agreed to a system more suited to economies that had a pool of well resourced construction companies. The word: “outsourcing” was added to the government vocabulary and private contractors were encouraged to bid for road construction projects. Some didn’t even have to equipment to do the job.
The World bank reforms facilitated the creation an ideal environment in which corruption flourished. Greedy politicians could not resist the lure of attractive opportunities to make money through their business associates. Procurement and tendering processes suffered from a steep rise in political interference as members of parliament tried to influence the outcome of the contracts.
Works teams once located along the highlands highway and other road sections through out the country could not work anymore because of a lack of funding. Of course, under the reforms, the department was supposed to only “monitor and supervise.” Many could only watch in frustration as contractors worked with inadequate machinery and worked only when there was a guarantee of a government cheques.
Governments exist because there are people to govern. Why did we listen to the World Bank? Why did we adopt a model not suited to Papua New Guinea?
Today our roads are crumbling. The Works Department is a shadow of its former self – unable to do what it once did proudly. Sure… We’re encouraged private sector growth alright. But for whose benefit?