When the Road Maintenance Fund (RMF) was created five years ago, it had raised strong hopes that the vast road network of the Roads and Highways Department (RHD) would be regularly maintained. But the fund has remained inactive and that hope has largely been dashed. What has caused the delay is not, however, clear. Is it due to non-availability of resources or managerial apathy? None has ever explained it. The second reason could, however, be the most probable one, for the RMF is unlikely to be resource-strapped as it is supposed to get resources from a few very strong sources, including road tax, motor vehicle tax and fitness, route permit, motor vehicle registration and licence fees.
Though belated, the RHD has finalised a draft guideline for the RMF that would soon be sent to the ministry of law for vetting. In the guideline, according to a report published in this paper, a proposal has been made to levy Tk.1.0 as road maintenance fee on each litre of fuel oil and per cubic metre of compressed natural gas (CNG). But why should the government put an additional financial burden on the consumers? It should not be that difficult for the government to provide Tk.20 billion a year to the RMF from the amount the Bangladesh Road Transport Authority (BRTA) collects as fees and charges. The owners of different modes of motor vehicles are now paying an additional amount on their purchase of every unit of fuel to the 'Energy Development Fund'.
Moreover there are a few other questions that can hardly be avoided when it comes to the construction and maintenance of roads and highways. The government spends a huge amount of money on the construction of roads and highways which has become one of the vibrant sectors. But the sector is plagued by widespread allegation of poor quality work. The allegation is quite disturbing because of the fact that the RHD spends one of the highest amounts in the world on per-kilometre road construction.
The poor-quality construction work obviously makes the newly-built roads and highways vulnerable to wear and tear earlier than normal time. But for paucity of funds, the RHD, in most cases, skips the timely repair of the damaged roads, causing sufferings to vehicle operators and passengers. The issue of poor road conditions routinely surfaces on the eve of the holy Eid festivals every year. Even the top brass of the road ministry has to make personal intervention to ensure timely road repair at that time.
According to an estimate of the RHD, an amount of Tk. 290 billion would be necessary for the overall maintenance of its road network until 2020. This is quite a huge sum. A large part of such spending could be avoided had the agency concerned been adequately serious about ensuring quality of road construction. But that will happen only when serious irregularities, financial or otherwise, present in the system are removed, to a large extent. But can one expect that under the prevailing circumstances?
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