By National Federation Party Leader Professor Biman Prasad
The Fiji Roads Authority has been allocated over 3 billion dollars in the last five and a half years.
This is a conservative figure obtained from the national budgets of 2013 to 2017-2018 budgets because in reality FRA’;s actual allocation has been more than $3 billion. The 4 kilometre four-lane highway from Nadi Airport to Wailoaloa junction cost over $166 million. We know it included relocation of electricity lines, telephone cables and water mains. But at over $40 million per kilometer it is exorbitant.
So, has FRA’s output been value for money for our hard eared taxpayers’ dollars!. Or could it have been better spent on improving our health and medical services, increasing social welfare benefits and paying a minimum guaranteed price to ensure a genuine revival of our sugar industry and in turn earn valuable foreign exchange and generate real economic growth.
Traffic congestion has become a serious problem for our population, it’s frustrating to be stuck in traffic every morning, where students are late to school and workers lose wages for any delay.
It gets hours to reach a destination in the Suva-Nausori and Nadi-Lautoka corridors. Similarly the entry and exit points to all our major municipalities cannot cope with the traffic inflow and outflow.
We have established that there are 120,704 registered vehicles in Fiji. The road network has not been upgraded sufficiently enough to cater for such a large increase in traffic.
Traffic congestion is also causing economic losses because workers do not usually get to work on time or have to leave home very early in order to do so. It is also contributing to increasing emission with vehicles waiting in queues for hours. It is also having an adverse impact on family time with parents reaching home late from work and have little time to spend with their children or complete their house chores.
On the other hand commuters witness daily how government vehicles with flashing blue lights, in particular cabinet Ministers jump and pass the queues with impunity.
Just as the Public Rental Board flats in Raiwai, Suva were built for a massive $22 million when only $9 million was budgeted for the project, so has FRA’s projects.
For example the Nabouwalu highway cost over $300 million. The small bridge on the Kings Highway just past Rakiraki village cost almost $14 million. Both these projects in our view were shabbily constructed. The Nabouwalu highway is deteriorating. So is the Rakiraki bridge.
In Suva, the Edinburgh drive is already sinking in some places and has an uneven surface only a few months after being dug up and newly constructed. Also in Suva the Mead Road was tarsealed over a year ago. It is being re-sealed. What nonsense?
The Vatuwaqa and Stinson Parade bridges were rebuilt and open to traffic almost after 6 years it was closed. One can argue that it was built through Chinese Government aid.
Past Aid projects
In January 1993 the Ba and Sigatoka bridges were destroyed when Cyclone Kina struck Fiji. Through European Union Aid, the new Ba bridge was opened to all traffic in December 1996, 3 years and 11 months after the destruction of the old bridge.
And the new Sigatoka bridge was opened in April 1997, four years and three months after the old bridge was destroyed. It was appropriately named Melrose Bridge following Fiji’s triumph in the 2nd Sevens Rugby World Cup a few weeks earlier in March.
Those are massive bridges. Imagine if the current Government had to build bridges of a similar magnitude! Given the time it took to build the Rakiraki bridge, it would have taken this Government 10 years!
Also, the 400 metre four-lane Rewa bridge and 1.5 kilometres of roads is a classic example as well as to how fast and efficient works were before the December 2006 coup. Construction of the bridge, again through EU Aid, began in 2003. It was completed in less than 3 years and opened after the 2006 elections.
The project cost around $30 million. 12 years later under the current government the project would have ballooned to over $300 million given what it cost the taxpayers to build infrastructure 10 times smaller than the biggest bridge in Fiji.
What is happening now
The quality of works undertaken by Fiji Roads Authority contractors leaves much to be desired. Roads are tarsealed and then resealed. Newly sealed roads have pot holes, some large and deep enough to be used as a lovo pit!
Worse are our rural roads and roads within municipalities. It must be remembered that roads and streets within all towns and cities were taken over by the FRA and are no longer under the control of the individual municipalities. Even street lights are being installed and maintained by the nominated FRA contractor.
Drains alongside roads are clogged with mud, silt, debris and overgrown grass. The level of drains and roads is the same. That is why during rain the roads get waterlogged and flooded.
The state of our drains, rivers, creeks and streams have been neglected for the last 12 years. This was seen during the floods in April when areas which had not experienced any flooding were swamped.
This is the sad indictment of affairs under the current Government.
What needs to be done
There are no quick fixes to improving infrastructure or reducing traffic congestion. But there are temporary solutions that can be implemented while projects that provide long-term solutions are being pursued.
An NFP Government will:
- Re-look at traffic inflow and outflow into our major towns and cities during peak hours. This may necessitate making certain roads one-way to quicken the inflow and outflow of traffic during peak hours in the morning and afternoon.
- Subject to a solid feasibility study with comprehensive consultations with all stakeholders like landowners and business owners, we will construct a new Coastal Highway between Nausori and Suva that will ease traffic congestion and open up spaces for development. We will do similar for a planned four-lane highway between Nadi and Lautoka.
- We will have a major policy announcement on infrastructure and roads in our manifesto. This will be revealed once the Writ for Elections are issued.