Throughout the world, road management and financing institutions are experiencing specific constraints in fulfilling their mandates. This has led in many countries, to the overwhelming need for road sector reform. On the whole, the Southern African Development Community (SADC), and Swaziland’s National Transport Policy, have concluded that one of the major infrastructure shortcomings in the region, is due to constraints in budgeting and financing of roads. Furthermore, the SADC Protocol (to which Swaziland is a signatory) promotes the development of road funding policies, which envisages the establishment of a Roads Agency and a Road Fund, which are in turn based on a common understanding of Road User Charges (RUC).
Road Reform in Eswatini has been under consideration for over 20 years, commencing in 1999 with approval to explore options for reform, by the Cabinet at the time. But, has hit many barriers.
The Government, finally commenced an implementation project in 2004 and subsequently drafted and submitted Parliamentary Bills for a Road Fund (RF) and Road Agency (RA) in 2008, which unfortunately stalled. This newer, current project, implemented by Cardno and financed by the African Development Bank (AfDB), aims to take forward the previous reform and support the Ministry of Public Works and Transport (MoPWT) in resubmitting the RF and RA Bills to parliament. Then, provide technical assistance to enable government to progress aspects of the reform such as designing the new agencies and preparing a road financing strategy.
The initiative, and long planned reforms, stalled once again in 2018, early in the project’s lifespan, due to elections and the formation of a new government. Further negotiations were also required when the new administration requested a single road agency instead of two, against recommendation and best practice.
It was around this time, during the 50th anniversary of independence celebrations, that King Mswati III formally announced the country be renamed Eswatini, meaning "Land of the Swazis".
None the less, the Cardno team re-mobilised under the oversight of the newly formed government, with slightly altered purgatives but in keeping with the original final agenda of improved institutional efficiency.
Current expectations are that outputs from the reform will include:
- The creation of a Road User Charging System to raise revenue from road users for road maintenance purposes
- The creation of a new road infrastructure agency to plan, finance, manage and maintain the road network, namely a Road Authority.
- Refocusing and downsizing of the Ministry’s Roads Department to focus only on policy, long-term planning, regulations and standards and performance monitoring and reporting
- Re-positioning and re-structuring of the Ministry’s Works Units as construction enterprises operating initially on preferred-contractor status but moving to full commercial operations within an agreed timeline.
Whilst road sector reforms are based on key underpinning principles, the scope and character of the mechanisms implemented vary from country-to-country. As explicitly demonstrated here, the variations come about because of different socio-political, economic and environmental conditions which vary over time. Rather than a one-time event, road sector reform is a process, and without it, many countries will find it very difficult to achieve economic growth.