Since its construction, the Terre-Rouge/Verdun motorway has made headlines with the millions and millions of rupees the government has had to disburse due to various issues and for its repairs. Who or what is to be blamed and should there be a law to sue public officers?
The several millions of rupees disbursed by the government for the repair works of the Terre-Rouge/Verdun motorway are countless. Indeed since its set up and construction, the motorway has required many repair works due to cracks and subsidence. The road up to Valton had yielded (conceded, ceded) in January 2015.
A year afterwards, the Minister of Public Infrastructures Nando Bodha concluded that the construction project was mismanaged and launched an enquiry to shed light on the matter. Minister Nando Bodha also declared in 2016 that an amount of Rs 7 million had been paid to the GETS Company on the claim of Rs 9 million. He pointed out that Rs 1.6 million had been disbursed to verify the GETS report.
In 2017, repair works cost Rs 284 millions in order to allow the reopening of the road in January this year. Minister Nando Bodha again stated that the tests were not carried out properly. In addition, due to heavy rain since the beginning of the year, the motorway suffered from landslides and rock falls. Up to now, the state has spent over Rs700 million in repairs.
News on Sunday talks to Fouad Uteene to have an insight on the matter. According to the Civil Engineer, who has more than 38 years of experience in construction, the evident issue in the construction of the Terre-Rouge/Verdun motorway is one of design.
“The foreign consultants have made erroneous mistakes in their design. I sincerely believe that our local Engineers have the necessary experience to design and to supervise such works as they know better the local conditions than the foreign consultants.” Fouad Uteene argues that the central procurement board in Mauritius is unfortunately not totally independent. “Too often, we hear of interferences from higher quarters in favour of a consultant/contractor who is not the best evaluated one; and the consequences are disastrous, as exemplified by the issue (as mentioned above).”
But what type of mistakes occurred in the design? Fouad Uteene explains that “firstly it is due to improper soil investigation and geotechnical studies which may lead to road subsidence or settlement if the soil strata are unstable or water logged or marshy or of peaty nature. Second, there has been no consideration given to the topography of the environment and which may cause problems of visibility. Third, there has been no consideration for water evacuation and drainage, particularly in case of heavy rains or cyclonic conditions.
Fourth, no allowance for proper access for maintenance of drains, culverts (under road drains, etc). Fifth, is insufficient visibility of opposite traffic at bends, sharp curvatures in the road alignment. Sixth are improper specifications of materials for the construction of the road sub base causing settlement in case of heavy traffic or heavy rains. Seventh, is that there is no visibility at night, that is absence of adequate road lighting.
Eight, is the absence of proper signage or confusing directional signs and which may cause confusion in the heads of drivers and hence accidents. Ninth, is the improper design of roundabouts-not at the right location or of improper size. Tenth, is that there are no regulations on the presence of huge billboards along highways and which may cause drivers distraction and accidents. Last but not least, consultants chosen for the road design are not to the required competencies, as evidenced by the problems we are having on the new Verdun road.”
The Civil Engineer states that these flaws have various consequences. “There are road congestions which lead to loss of productivity. Moreover, in congestion times, drivers can go crazy and try to be smarter than others by reckless and dangerous driving causing accidents. The life time of roads is reduced and this results in increased maintenance costs. There is also wastage of public money,” he trusts. Is it not high time to have a law to sue public officers and consultants for carelessness and unprofessionalism?
“Each time there is a problem with a contract, it is the public who foots the bill. I believe it is time that the public officers and consultants involved are taken to task whenever their lack or professionalism and carelessness is proved; they should be sued and bear the consequences.
If such a law is enacted, public officers will refuse to accept interferences or indulge in unsound practices, as they know that they will have to face the law and prosecution/imprisonment. The law should apply to all those involved in the procurement process, supervision, project management, etc. Singapore should be the example to follow for public tenders.
The arm of the law should also reach the political decision makers,” utters Fouad Uteene. What should be done to remedy the situation? The Civil Engineer, who is a member of the Chartered Institute of Builders (UK) and a corporate member of the Institute of Engineers (Mauritius), trusts that Mauritius has local experts who are competent geologists and Engineers and whom Government do not rely upon for the design of roads.
“I am of the opinion that all foreign consultants should imperatively associate themselves with local engineering firms who have experience in the field. Local engineers are used to the local conditions of our soil and are also more aware of our drivers’ attitude and behavior on roads. Second, the RDA and TMU should be empowered with more expertise-our Engineers should receive regular training and be up-to-date with new road technologies.”