Monday, 14 May 2018

Roads audits, Count the legs instead of the cows

 Politicians and journalists in East Africa have formed a habit of commenting on investment in the infrastructure sector without proper understanding. They thus mislead the public to believe they are short-changed.
It is easy to point at their failure as deliberate misreporting. However, given the spread of the practice in East Africa, it is clear that the commentators lack the capacity to write technical reports, which makes their work worthless.

 On reporting on roads construction and costing they focus on the distance, ignoring the number of roads on the distance. That is they count the cows instead of counting their legs which is the practice in road construction. This is because roads have either two lanes or more and each lane is counted as a tarmacked road.

 A good example was the sustained criticism of Kenya’s Standard Gauge Railway project from Mombasa to Nairobi.  While it was condemned as the den of corruption, investigations established that the criticism was funded by corruption cartels through their friends in the equally corrupt media
A recent report in a Kenyan daily over the actual length of paved roads in the country exposes the level of this vice.   The report quotes different numbers on paved road length wondering which is correct. As expected, the writer’s bent was the government has not built the alleged length of roads in the current Economic Survey which puts the length of paved roads built in the last five years at 6,000Km.  

Entebbe Expressway: 
Zooming over swamps
But a perusal of completed projects in Kenya by the three Roads Authorities, though woefully outdated, shows that roads measuring in length 2914 kilometers were completed by 2016. Another 1818 Kilometers were on-going.
Given that the reports are almost three years old, more roads must have been completed unless they tell us that no activity was going on since 2016. However, going by the figure 2914 Kilometers, assuming two-lane roads, we are talking about 5828 Kilometers of a road.
 Considering that most urban roads are more than four-lane, this list understates the size of paved roads completed in the country from 2015. This list does not include roads we know are complete and in use such as the 12.3 Kilometer –Phase1 of the Ndogo Kudu bypass in Mombasa.

The 12.3 Km section has 49.2 Kilometers of paved road, being a dual road. The 13-Kilometre Outer-ring road in Nairobi is an 8- lane -road meaning that the quantity of paved on that section is more than 100 kilometers, and is also complete.
This sort of misreporting has played a key role provoking disdain with which citizens here treat their governments.
Entebbe Expressway: 
difficult Terrain
 Last year, Uganda’s Parliamentary committee on statutory Enterprises, COSASE, kicked so much dust on the cost of constructing the Entebbe expressway branding it the most expensive roads in the world. They alleged that the road’s construction cost $9.3 million per kilometer and ordered a review of the costs.

Politicians and journalists could be forgiven for their ignorance but what about government audit units?

The Ugandan Controller and Auditor General also questioned the cost of the Entebbe Expressway saying it cost more than Ethiopia’s 88 KM Addis-Ababa –Adama -six-lane expressway.

The comparison was pedestrian, to say the least. It only looked at the products and their costs ignoring the land on which the product is built.  The land terrain is a major determinant of the cost of a road. Bridges load a larger cost on a road’s construction cost.
The Entebbe expressway crosses muddy swamps and therefore needed a lot of bridges. It boasts of 2.225 KM of bridges sitting on 240 pillars some as deep as 6-8 Metres.  These costs exclude under-passes and interchanges.

The moral here is, to audit any engineering project objectively, we must start with the detailed design of the project for that is where the devil is; where costing is done, contract components are defined and justified.

The detailed design also shows the physical features of the project area and what has to be constructed where. For example,

it shows intersections, bridges, overpasses, service roads, pedestrian paths, culverts, drains, climbing lanes, bus stops, etc. in case of roads.