MADANG - On 4 January 2021, Justice David Cannings initiated national court proceedings in Madang to address the dilapidated condition of Madang town roads.
The Court commenced proceedings as an inquiry to determine the answer to four key questions:
1) Who is responsible for maintaining and rehabilitating Madang town roads?
2) Why are the road conditions so poor?
3) What is being done to address the problem?
4) In what manner and to what extent are human rights being infringed by the dilapidated road conditions in Madang?
In the course of the inquiry, the Judge summoned the following individuals to appear to before the Court to provide evidence and assist the Court to answer the above questions: Acting Madang Provincial Administrator; Acting CEO of Madang District Development Authority; Acting Madang Town Manager; Department of Works Provincial Works Manager; Madang Provincial Police Commander; Madang Provincial Correctional Institution Services Commander; Madang Open Member and Governor of Madang.
At the hearing, I explained to the court that I met and raised the same issues with the Department of Works in 2019 to determine who was responsible and what was being done about it.
In 2019 the National Executive Council appropriated K10 million in the 2020 national budget to carry out repairs to town roads.
I also told the Court that, throughout 2020, I had been in constant contact with the secretaries for Works, National Planning and Treasury to have the K10 million released and for a reputable company to be awarded the contract to carry out the work.
I further explained that, given the impact of Covid in 2020, the lockdowns and disruption to national government services, many planned projects, including the repairs to Madang town roads were not progressed.
In September 2020, Treasury tabled a supplementary budget proposing the K10m be cut as the warrants were yet to be issued.
I aggressively objected to the submission and had the funds retained.
In November, I was finally able to get the warrants released to the Department of Works to call for tenders, only to find that K2.9 million was misapplied for work purportedly done in 2018 and 2019.
I again intervened to have the funds restored by Treasury.
In December, as the close of accounts was fast approaching, any warrants issued and not drawn down (paid) would be lost.
I proposed to the Department of Works that funds be released to the Madang District Development Authority (MDDA) to be kept in our district account.
On the eve of the close of government accounts, I was able to get Treasury and Works to issue two cheques totalling K10.9 million. I submitted to the court copies of two cheques.
I explained I held off depositing the cheques, concerned they would bounce after hearing numerous government cheques had been dishonoured by the Central Bank (for no apparent reason, as I knew there were sufficient funds to honour them).
I explained to the court that, given the urgency and risk of the funds being lost, the Madang District Development Authority engaged KramerAusenco to carry out a site condition assessment and maintenance report.
The report also provided a scope of works and bill of quantities to carry out urgent repair and maintenance of Modilon road.
The document was essential to facilitate the memorandum of undersanding between the Department of Works and MDDA and release of funds to MDDA.
KramerAusenco carried out the work and reported with the approval of Madang District Development Authority on the basis it would be free of charge as part of their corporate social responsibility program.
I also explained to the court that the study established that the cause of the damage to the road was the collapse in the road drainage system, causing water to pool and soak into the pavement.
This has, over years, led to large sections of the road seal and pavement deteriorating and collapsing.
In recent years, the practice had been to award the same road contractor millions of kina to repair the re-seal the road without addressing the root cause of the problem - the drainage.
Any repairs would only last two years before the same company would be awarded the same contract to carry out the same work, a practice that had been going on for years resulting in millions of public funds being wasted.
I informed the court that, as Member for Madang, I took the initiative to get involved to ensure the work was done properly.
Proper drainage would be installed including kerb and channel so the road would last 10-20 years instead of just one or two years.
After hearing all the evidence submitted, the national court made the following findings among others in its published judgement
Who is responsible?
Primary responsibility for maintaining and rehabilitating the Madang roads rests with the Provincial Government.
The road conditions are very poor because the Madang Provincial Government failed to understand or recognise its responsibility.
Over a long period of about eight years insufficient funds have been allocated in successive provincial budgets to road maintenance and rehabilitation.
Those funds allocated appear to have been misapplied, under-applied or ineffectively applied.
The Court expressed the view there has clearly been a problem with the capacity or integrity of the contractors engaged in the past.
What is being done about it?
Little effective work has been done in recent times to address the problem.
I accept the evidence of the member for Madang Open, Bryan Kramer MP, that he has taken initiatives and been proactive and assertive in securing funds necessary to at least address the problem of Modilon Road.
The court then made a number of urgent remedial orders including that the Madang DDA should have primary responsibility for repairing and rehabilitating Modilon Road.
The work was to commence before April and be completed not later than August 2021.
The two cheques I had in my possession, that I had yet to deposit, were to be deposited forthwith and all relevant government departments were to honour them.
The court further ordered that the provincial government should make available K2.5 million in its budget to carry out remedial works by repairing all non-bitumen patches and filing of all pot-holes in such a way they are drivable in an orderly and safe manner.
The establishment of an ad hoc road repair committee, chaired by myself, to meet every two months to monitor and discuss the implementation of the court orders.
While I note a handful of critics who have been peddling misinformation on social media suggesting the court made a ruling I was responsible for the poor state of Madang town roads and ordered me to fix it, these claims are both baseless and misleading.
Responsibility for the maintenance and repair of Madang town roads is the responsibility of the provincial administration. A responsibility it hasfailed completely to meet.
The court put me in charge precisely because the provincial administration had failed to do its job. And if this continued, the Administration would continue to fail the people of Madang.
I'm pleased to announce that work has already commenced on the town roads.
This work was planned before the court proceedings were initiated, and is reflected in the orders. The court in effect validated and supported the actions already underway.
The work will include constructing proper drainage, kerb and channel, repairing the pavement and seal. I expect the work to be completed by June if not sooner.