By Tiri Masawi and Kelvin Chiringa
With the advancement of Namibia’s agenda to become a transport and logistics hub in the near future, no organization is as primed to play an active role in ensuring that the road network is sound enough to ensure the realization thereof as the Roads Authority (RA). This month, Prime Focus Magazine’s Managing Editor, Tiri Masawi and reporter Kelvin Chiringa, sit with the Chief Executive Officer of the Roads Authority, Conrad Lutombi, to discuss the RA’s role in the development process of Namibia and many other issues relating to its operations.Prime Focus: What is the role of the Roads authority?
Conrad Lutombi: The mandate of the Roads Authority is to manage Namibia’s national road network with a view to achieve a safe and efficient road sector. The management of the proclaimed road network includes planning, designing, construction and maintenance. It also includes quality control of materials and supervision of work contracted out and the operation of the Road Management System (RMS).
In addition to its core functions, the RA also provides transport and traffic related services to vehicle owners, operators and drivers as assigned functions from the Minister of Works and Transport.Prime Focus: The RA has its own national plans and then the Harambee Prosperity Plan which has infrastructure development action which requires upgrading of roads. How do you tie in these plans together?
Conrad Lutombi: We do have the Medium to Long Term Road Master Plan which focuses on new projects beyond ten years. With the Harambee Prosperity Plan, the majority of the road projects were already identified and were incorporated in our 2014 – 2018 Strategic Plan. The only difference is that implementation of the Harambee projects has become a priority. Projects such as the upgrading of the Windhoek- Airport to a dual carriageway, the Swakopmund-Hentiesbay-Uis-
Kamanjab road upgrade to bitumen standard and the Okahandja-Windhoek road upgrade to a dual carriageway and the Swakopmund – Walvis Bay road to a dual carriageway are already in progress.
We are done with the detailed design of the Omuthiya-Oshakati road upgrade to a dual carriageway and we are ready to go on tender. The other Harambee project is the upgrading to a two plus one lane between Karibib and Swakopmund. This project is currently in the design stage. Therefore 90% of the Harambee projects are underway and we are confident that we will be able to deliver as per the plan.
Prime Focus: How does the Harambee Prosperity Plan affect the RA budget on projects which were already being implemented?
Conrad Lutombi: Funding is a challenge but since the Harambee projects are priority, we have incorporated them in our Government funded budget and Road Fund Administration loans. Where we have a short fall, we will approach our Government to source more funding.
Prime Focus: The Harambee Prosperity Plan aims to get Namibians active in the mainstream economy, How is the RA making sure that Namibians are in the forefront of the tenders they give out?
Conrad Lutombi: The RA has aligned its Procurement Policy to the National Procurement Act, 2015. Furthermore we have adopted an evaluation criteria that takes into consideration the steps needed to allow significant participation of local entities. Firstly, we have put in place preliminary evaluation, which ensures empowerment of local entities as provided for in various Namibian legislation frameworks. Secondly, we have adopted what is termed “Preferential Evaluation” which advocates for an allocation of a maximum of 25 points to entities that have significant component of previously disadvantaged group categories. The third measure implemented to promote local participation in road construction Tenders is the consideration given to contractors that have local experience on similar projects. This really works very well and has proven to be beneficial in the procurement process.
Prime Focus: Apart from funding, what are the major challenges RA faces?
Conrad Lutombi: The other major challenge apart from funding is getting experienced Engineers. We would like to attract Engineers to ensure that we get appropriate individuals to do our engineering jobs. The shortage of experienced engineers is a regional problem and we are working very hard to attract and develop capacity.
Prime Focus: How does it determine or prioritise the roads that need improvement?
Conrad Lutombi: There are established Regional Road Boards across the country, who in consultation with the Regional Governors and Councillors advise the Ministry of Works and Transport, through the Roads Authority, on regional road priorities which eventually gets incorporated in the Medium to Long Term Roads Master Plan.
Other factors that are taken into consideration especially in upgrading the road to bitumen standard are the frequency of traffic on the specific road, safety and maintenance costs. The social aspect also plays a key factor in constructing/upgrading roads for example creating connectivity to schools and hospitals, and other community centres.
Prime Focus: Which part of the country needs more road improvement attention?
Conrad Lutombi: In terms of our regional road network analysis, the Medium to Long Road Master Plan and the Rural Accessibility Development Programme, there is a need for more access roads in areas where majority of the population are still living far distances from all seasoned roads. Roads are neede in these areas to give them access to essential services such as hospitals, schools etc. These areas include all the northern and Northern east regions, the Omaheke, Erongo, Otjozundjupa and Kunene Regions.
However, It must be noted that as far as road upgrading to bitumen standards is concern most of the highly trafficked roads across the country requires upgrading, while the very old tarred roads requires rehabilitation.
Prime Focus: What goes into the maintenance of roads?
Conrad Lutombi: Our focus is to have a balance between new development and preservation of our existing road network. Maintenance of the National Proclaimed road network entails routine and periodic maintenance activities on the network in an attempt to keep the existing roads safe and in condition in order to minimise vehicle operating costs for the road user.
Prime Focus: What is the operational plan of the RA in the next five years?
Conrad Lutombi: The Roads Authority has crafted a strategy which will be reviewed after 2018. In terms of this strategy, a number of projects are lined up for implementation including the Harambee Prosperity Plan road projects
Prime Focus: Has the RA also adopted performance management systems that have been adopted by some Government ministries to improve efficiency?
Conrad Lutombi: We have made significant strides with regard to the implementation of the Performance Management System (PMS). We have successfully completed the alignment of the strategy to the Balance Score Card Framework (through the development of corporate Score Card, Divisional Score Card and finally the Individual Performance Agreement) and training of all Users. We have also completed the contracting process.
All these steps have formed the foundation for a practical performance management system in the Roads Authority. We are doing performance reviews every 6 months. Our aspiration is for the RA to become a high performing culture organization, while recognising and rewarding excellent performance of individual employees. Therefore the implementation of the PMS is a strategic tool for to realise our aspiration for the benefit of our stakeholders, roads users and communities.
There have been challenges in the past with local companies participating in road construction because of the highly technical nature of the work involved, has the RA found ways of assisting local players especially small to medium scale enterprises to be able to handle tender applications?
Yes, the Roads Authority has always advocated for the development of local capacity in order to benefit the road sector in the long run, with specific focus on SMEs. We have made efforts to put in place programmes to train SME in tendering, technical performance as well as financial management. We also put programmes in place to help SMEs to register their training curriculums with NQA.
The Roads Authority also takes pride in being one of the leading organizations in Namibia in the development of SME contractors. We have implemented a SME Development Policy to help us to achieve our goal in assisting SME’s and contribute to the efforts of Government to create employment opportunities and alleviate poverty.
In addition, all our labour-based road projects are structured in such a way that SME contractors and established civil engineering plant contractors, tender jointly for the project. As a result, the successful SME tenderers execute the work under the leadership of the civil engineering plant contractor and they are trained and equipped with much needed skills from the main contractors.
Prime Focus: How much has the RA spent in road construction and rehabilitation in the past 5 years?
Conrad Lutombi: The Roads Authority has spent approximately N$6,075,595,982.43 since 2011 on road construction and rehabilitation alone. This figure does not include maintenance, which is also a significant cost driver of our operations.
Prime Focus: What are the current major road projects being driven by the RA at current and what is their significance to the economy in general?
Conrad Lutombi: The on-going major projects include the Windhoek-Okahandja road upgrade to a dual carriageway, Windhoek-Hosea Kutako Airport Road upgrade to a dual carriageway, the upgrading to a dual carriageway of Main Road 44 (road behind Dune 7), Main Road 36 and Trunk Road 2/1 (coastal road) connecting Swakopmund and Walvis Bay, Oranjemund-Rosh Pinah road upgrade to bitumen standard, the Swakopmund-Hentiesbay-Uis-Khorixas-Kamanjab road upgrade to bitumen standard, the Gobabis – Amunius – Aranos road upgrade to bitumen standards, the Otjinene – Grootfontein road upgrade to bitumen standards, Oshakati – Ongenga-okatana – Onhuno road upgrading to bitumen standard. The Roads Authority is also busy carrying a significant number of district and rural access roads throughout Namibia in support of our Government’s efforts to ensure that development reaches every Namibian, especially in terms of adequate access roads to social service centres to improve livelihood.
The availability of modern and well developed road infrastructure is key for driving the economic growth of our country. The integration of transportation modes such the Ports, roads, railway and the airport will promote developmental initiatives of intermodal freight movements. By looking at the current and future requirements and anticipated growth of freights being carried, these developments are necessary and will have a significant impact on our economy. We expect significant cargo volumes once the Port of Walvis Bay expansion project is completed, and our infrastructure (both road and rail) should be ready to handle such freight. The results of these projects initiatives will be the seamless delivery of integrated freight solutions that are suitable for long-term and positive effects to the consumers and economies at large as we move Namibia to become a logistic hub.
Prime Focus: How would you rate our road infrastructure as compared to other countries in the SADC region?
Conrad Lutombi: In comparison with other SADC and African countries, Namibia has done significantly well, and we have been recognized to be among the top countries with best road infrastructure. Namibia was accorded the top position for having the best roads in Africa by the World Economic Forum (WEF) during his tenure as CEO of the Roads Authority. A total number of 144 countries worldwide were assessed based on a number of indicators, including the quality of road infrastructure and Namibia’s roads were found to be the best in Africa and of similar quality to those in Britain and Puerto Rico. The results were released via the WEF’s Global Competitiveness Report for 2014/15. This is indeed a milestone for our country and we will continue to maintain and extend our road network.
This has come about through dedication and hard work and smart investment in the road sector, although we still believe that more resources should be made available to sustain the integrity of our road network for the next generation.
Prime Focus: As an institution, what do you think have been your major milestones in the past three years?
Conrad Lutombi: I am proud to share with the Roads Authority has made significant strides in expanding Namibia’s road network in its efforts to achieve the Goals for Transport Infrastructure as set out in Vision 2030.
We have built major regional roads, created links with all neighbouring countries which is in line with Namibia’s national development plan, which places a high premium on the four priorities of logistics, manufacturing, agriculture, and tourism. The expansion of the road network has already started to bear fruit as many of the communities in Namibia have access to the main centres of the country and are able to sell their products to the major urban centres within the country and beyond.
Also, the road infrastructure of Namibia continues to contribute to the economic growth of other SADC countries. Namibia is currently accessible by all the SADC member states. Land-locked countries of Zambia, Zimbabwe and the Democratic Republic of Congo now have access to the Atlantic Ocean via the Port of Walvis Bay because of well-maintained road infrastructure.
It is a well-known fact that roads are not only regarded as the backbone of our country’s economy, but are also crucial for the advancement of our Government’s goals to improve the lives of all our citizens. Thus, our aim is to ensure that the Roads Authority focuses on our mandate and ensure that we develop our road infrastructure by implementing road projects as provided in our Medium To Long Road Master Plan. At the same time we have continued to keep our existing road network in good shape through a proactive maintenance strategy.
Another milestone worth mentioning is that we have completed the revision of the Overload Control Strategy and we are at an advanced stage to finalize decriminalization of overloading offenders so that over-loaders will be held liable to pay fees in future, commensurate to the damage caused to the road.
We have also completed the construction and upgrading ofNaTIS One Stop Centres in Eenhana, Outapi, Grootfontein, Walvis Bay, Oshakati and Opuwo. Plans are at an advanced stage to commence with the construction of the NaTIS Centre in Otjomuise in Windhoek. We have also successfully implemented the e-NaTIS system and we are currently busy with the implementation of phase 2 of this system. Once this process is finalized, the enhancement of service delivery at our NaTIS of offices will improve tremendously.
The implementation of the technical and financial auditing of our capital projects to ensure financial controls and value creation for money, enhanced internal business processes and organisational capital, as well as effective good governance practices are also some of great achievement we are proud of.
Prime Focus: As one of the vital parastatals to the economy how do you think the RA contributes to the Namibian economy?
Conrad Lutombi: The provision of safe and efficient roads is an essential part of Namibia’s social-economic development strategy and the Authority continues to play a vital role in this strategy. Hence, the mandate entrusted upon the RA is critical to the performance of the national economy. It is my sincere belief that good roads will give us good economy.
The provision and maintenance of the road infrastructure does not only ensure connectivity, but it also gives rise to diverse economic activities. A primary function of any road network is to move goods and people affordably, reliably and as safely as possible. I cannot overemphasize the importance of a good road network and our own desire to take advantage of regional and local opportunities to aid economic advancement that will have an impact on raising incomes and reducing poverty. A reduction in poverty will certainly ensure improvement in human development, including education and health.
Prime Focus: What is your daily philosophy?
Conrad Lutombi: The great Inventor, Thomas Edison, once said “There is no substitute for hard work” and that is my daily philosophy.