Show Me the Dollar Brick Road

26 September, 2012: The 2012 year has seen an unprecedented level of public interest regarding government spend on national roads, especially with the prospect of eTolling still looming on the horizon as government considers alternative funding mechanisms for our infrastructure upgrades.

The deterioration of our roads is a major concern, particularly since this is compounded by rural areas that are desperate for infrastructure to be built. But the question remains – is the problem getting any better, and is our hard-earned taxpayers’ money ending up where it should? The piece below looks at the budget holistically for the country as well as by province, and how efficiently it is being spent.

The Budget

The combined provincial budget allocations for 2012/2013 equate to just over R18.5 billion - an amount that excludes the Medium Term Expenditure Framework grants from Treasury, the hefty amount spent on SANRAL upgrades and the estimated R5 billion that is generated in motor vehicle licencing fees.  It also excludes funding sourced from the fuel levy, which represents about R 28 billion.

According to a presentation given in November 2011 on the Provincial Roads Maintenance Grant by the National Treasury, the South African road network spans over 606,000km of proclaimed roads, making it the largest in Africa and 12th largest in the world.

By its own admission, the Gauteng government estimates that 30% of provincial roads across the province are either in poor or very poor condition.  This, in essence, raises the cost of transportation, which in turn has a domino effect on citizens and industry. In addition, the longer the roads are left to deteriorate the higher the cost of reconstruction and maintenance.

The Provinces

Road infrastructure and maintenance problems vary by province – deterioration of roads due to mining operations in Mpumalanga and the North West, and a severe lack of access to services such as clinics and schools in the Eastern Cape to name a few.

For example, a July 2011 report reflected that the Eastern Cape projected a budget underspend of R783 million, while Gauteng had not spent any of its budget at that time, although a R5 million overspend was projected. 

Of course, feeding into all of this is also the question of the skill level of our service providers, and who provides oversight on the process. Does it all boil down to the Auditor General’s report the following year, by which time it’s too late to fix anything. And if so, is this unqualified audit the only tool by which the effectiveness of our provinces is measured?

Taking Action

So what constitutes action? Well, a good starting point would be to start seeing some tangible results from the taxpayers’ sizeable contribution – more tar and gravel please. Taking action is the only solution. By building roads we build skills and contribute to the local economy - not by sitting in an office pondering a tender, or lamenting the lack of skilled engineers.

It’s no secret that proper road infrastructure can change lives and uplift communities. A case study is the village of eManguze in Zululand, just south of the Kosi Bay border post. Once a settlement serviced by a general dealer, clinic and very little else, it was transformed into a bustling town with choices of shops, fuel stations and a functional hospital resulting from  the upgrade of a 13km stretch from a sand track to an all-weather road to the Mozambique border.

When taking a holistic view the challenges may appear insurmountable, but the question remains as to whether there is a structured plan going forward to ensure that taxpayers’ money is being used to make changes for the positive (chipping away at the damage, not getting further into it). Therefore, given the size and deteriorating quality, a greater emphasis is needed on road maintenance rather than on new construction.

Automobile Association of South Africa (AA)
011 799 1180

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