by Roy R. Morris
Road repairs and maintenance are about to take a major diversion in Barbados.
Minister of Transport and Works, Michael Lashley, acknowledging that there were roads in the country that had not been paved for decades, told Barbados TODAY he had already taken a decision it was time to take a new path.
An integral part of the shift in focus by the ministry, he said, would be the involvement of the private sector, particularly small operators, in the repair programme.
The news was met with instant approval by one of the region’s most successful road builders, Sir Charles Williams, who said that not only was it long overdue, but taxpayers would benefit from roads built cheaper, better and faster.
The minister, while making it clear that the role of the various MTW depots would not be phased out, said the task to be undertaken required new thinking to supplement the traditional old approach.
“Luckily, we have had a model that worked most effectively while I was minister of housing and it is most appropriate for this job. I intend to fully involve the private sector in the Government’s road repair and road maintenance programme.
“The same kinds of partnership we had that allowed us to build so many homes over the last five year will be created to ensure that we are able to bring our roads up to the condition that would satisfy road users.”
Today, he told Barbados TODAY that in cases where road surfaces needed to be scraped, small operators with the requisite equipment, such as a backhoe, would be employed to get the job started.
This, he added, would allow Government to share the work and provide employment opportunities, after which the larger contractors with the specialised paving equipment, or the ministry itself, would be brought in to do the paving.
“There are quite a few roads in Barbados that need to be treated this way before a surface is applied, and very shortly we will roll out our programme,” Lashley said.
“When you examine some of these roads closely you will realise that while the surface may be bad, the foundation is still solid, so making them right should not be an overwhelming undertaking.”
He explained that he had already toured a number of parishes, and the depots assigned to them, to look specifically at road concerns and had issued instructions on changes that should be made to bring about improvements.
For larger road projects, Lashley revealed, his approach will be to encourage joint projects with the private sector in PPP-type [Private/Public Partnership] arrangement, in which the funding would be provided by the private sector partner.
General Manager at C.O. Williams Construction, Neil Weekes, pointed out that from the point of view of materials alone, taxpayers stood to benefit tremendously, explaining that when it came to roadworks, materials could be the most significant cost.
“If C.O. Williams or Rayside [Construction] is doing a project, they already own the quarries, for example … and they will sell themselves product at a lower price then they will sell someone else doing the job, including Government,” he noted.
From the standpoint of efficiency, he added, private sector companies are in the business to make a profit and operate accordingly, with far less bureaucracy.
“So for instances, when a piece of equipment breaks down it will get repaired much faster; not that a fellow working for Government would not want to get it back up quickly, but the bureaucracy will slow him down,” Weekes added.
The C.O. Williams head noted that private/public sector partnerships do work and Barbados could benefit from utilising them more often.
“We stand ready to work with the Government in any way necessary to improve our road network,” he stated. [email protected]
by Roy R. Morris