Ethiopian Business Review

“I Apologize those Affected in the Process; the Residents, the Business Community and All.”

Addis Ababa has been undergoing reconstruction in the past several years. Highway constructions carried out by the City’s Roads Authority has changed the face of the metropolis for good. Even if the end result of the reconstruction is hoped to smooth traffic flow and upgrade the standard of the city, the process has disrupted the comfort of city dwellers and challenged businesses and transport service providers. EBR’s Berihun Mekonnen sat down with Fekadu Haile (Engi.), General Manager of Addis Ababa City Roads Authority (AACRA) and discussed about ongoing road projects, challenges of remaking the city and prospects ahead. Excerpts: 

EBR: How many road projects are underway currently in Addis Ababa and what is their cost?

Fekadu: There are more than 140 roads and related projects currently going on. Some of them are constructed by contractors while 67Pct of them are done by AACRA’s own forces. The ones we are building by own forces are projects which have right-of-way problems. Such projects take longer period and incur huge cost; that is why contractors are not interested. Our budget in 2013/14 was 3.1 billion birr. The actual expenditure, however, was around 7 billion. 

How come you have more expense than allocated budget; and how do you finance the difference?

Every year AACRA asks more budget and gets less. We usually finish our budget in the middle of the year and ask the city Finance and Economic Development Bureau for more. The Bureau usually reallocates unutilized budget from other sectors to AACRA.

So the Addis Ababa road networks are growing at the expense of other sectors?

You may take it that way. In the history of AACRA the budget allocated at the beginning of the year and the total expenditure incurred at the end of the year has never been the same. The city administration is aware of this fact. For 2014/15 fiscal year for instance, the administration has allocated 6.4 billion birr, while our request was 10.1 billion.

As it happens, the city is under reconstruction especially in the road sector; are you up to the task, technically and managerially?

Judging from our past experience, I can say AACRA is capable of handling the projects. The road projects carried by our own forces are being supervised and controlled by our engineers. We have consultants for every project. Senior managers are also there to fill any gap. 

We have been building the institutional capacity of AACRA. Currently, we are under preparation to hire senior technical advisors to work with us. This will help us to have enhanced proficiency and get early comments about problems we will encounter in the future. We have almost completed the design of more than 400Km road master plan for the city. 

But most projects are not completed on time and it has affected the city dwellers; it also leads to increased cost of projects. 

Delays emanate from right-of-way problems. Before constructing a road preparations such as demolishing houses, relocating and compensating owners, as well as relocating utility lines will be done. These things are taking more time than planned. 

Obviously, when projects are delayed, cost will be higher. It is a disadvantage both to the government and the contractor. That is why most contractors are not willing to take projects in the city. I share their concern. 

Residents of Addis Ababa complain that AACRA [or its contractors] neglect to build alternative roads and cleaning up messes created during construction. What is your take on that?

That is not true. Sometimes the residents ask the Authority to build an alternative road which can only be done in highways. This is because highways are constructed near farmlands. In the inner city it is difficult to build detours – you cannot get land for that. 

The Construction of roads in the city doesn’t take into consideration the special needs of persons with physical disabilities. See the roads you have completed, none of them ease life for the disabled.

In the past, nobody was taking care of the disabled. But now we are working with their organization to incorporate their needs in our designs. But I can’t say we have fully completed this task. 

One of the projects AACRA is doing is the asphalt road construction along the Light Railway Transit (LRT) from Megenagna to Tor Hayloch. Was this project planned before the LRT came into picture or you planned them after the LRT?

The road from Megenagna to Tor Hayloch was scheduled to be constructed before the LRT project. It was planned for design in 2006; a foreign consultant was to do the design. But the amount of money required, which was ETB 400 million, was too much. There was also foreign currency shortage in the country at the time. For that reason, we cancelled the contract.

Then the idea of mass transport came. Initially, the plan was not to construct a light railway but to build mass Rapid Bus Transit (RBT). That was in the master plan. In the meantime the government told us to stop the design because getting finance for the RBT was impossible. Then the idea of LRT came in. So we prepared ourselves for engineering, procurement and construction turnkey project. This kind of system allows one company to solicit financing for the project. 

What major challenges do you face while working with the LRT project?

We faced many problems. Initially there was no detail design of the LRT and I still don’t see any detail design. This is a challenge; and there are right-of-way problem too. 

For example, the main water pipeline coming from Legedadi Dam passes through the middle of the road from Megenagna to Mexico Square. In order to construct the LRT we needed to relocate the pipeline first. But nobody has taken this challenge in to account ahead. It took more than 400 million birr to relocate the 9Km pipeline to the left side of the road. 

There are several intersections between Megenagna and Tor Hayloch. Unless we do these intersections together, it will be very difficult for LRT and regular traffic to go in harmony.

Roads are basically constructed to connect people and provide access to services. But if you see some roads such as the new Africa Avenue (Bole Road), it is disconnecting businesses from their customers and neighborhoods from social engagements. Can this be an example for the design problems at your office?

Not at all! This is not a design problem. The Bole Road is fulfilling its purpose, which is basically connecting the VIPs to the Bole International Airport in a fast lane. 

How about the business communities in the area, with whose tax the city finances its development? 

Previously parking was allowed to the side roads. But this limited the function of the road. It used to take a longer time to drive to and from the airport. So we decided to ban parking on the side of the road. If we allow parking movement will be hindered. 

By design, the buildings in the city should have underground parking lots. But because there is no enforcement, the owners have changed their parking lots into gym, bar, stores or others. This should be reversed to solve  parking problems.

Are you saying that to provide fast drive for the VIPs, business activities in the area has to be hampered?

That is your conclusion, not mine. What we have said is we have to use this road basically for transportation not parking. But we proposed to build six 12- storey buildings for parking on the Bole Road where there is a high business transaction. It is in the city’s transport bureau plan.

What about in other roads under construction; Do you plan to ban parking? 

Road side parking will not be possible anymore. Many countries use the same approach. Buildings should have their own parking lots for their customers. Enforcing this will eventually solve the problem. 

Why didn’t you build buildings for parking lots side by side with the construction of the roads?

This is not our responsibility. We are only proposing to the city’s transport bureau. It is the responsibility of the city’s transport bureau and traffic police. Ones constructed how to use the roads is not basically our responsibility.

Let’s talk about the cost; do you think USD60 million spent on the 4.1Km Bole Road is justifiable?

Roads are different in kind. There are different structures at Bole Road. It is not an easy task to construct an overpass at Olympia, Wolo Sefer and around Rwanda Embassy. The width of the road is big and the drainage systems are also complicated.

The actual cost for the road is almost USD41 million. The reason we took USD60 million from the bank is because the bank said it will not accept any variation. But in any road construction there would be variation from the initial estimations. So, we asked a bit higher than the original estimation in order to finish the project on time. We paid the contractor item by item. So instead of returning the remaining money to the bank, we decided to do some extension works. Compared to the price of raw materials at that time, the project was not expensive. 

Many roads constructed in the past, such as the road from Meskel Square to Saris, have been demolished a few years after they were finalized. Critics say that these problems happen because AACRA doesn’t have a long term comprehensive plan. 

It is; and yet it is not. Regarding the LRT, the plan is implemented without prior consideration. Five years ago, we didn’t have a plan for the LRT. We were planning for the RBT. But the RBT was changed in to the LRT; this doesn’t mean that the Authority has done it out of order. 

Let’s take the road from Meskel Square to Saris. The middle section of the road was initially built in a standard to accommodate the LRT. But when the Chinese company came for the construction of the LRT, they said it has to be demolished to be constructed again. Because, it is a Turnkey project, we cannot force them to accept this. There are, however, many cases where we have taken action without [proper] plan. This is because we have problem in planning. Because of the upcoming railway and several road projects, we need a comprehensive thinking and planning in the future though. But there isn’t a body to handle this comprehensive planning for infrastructural development [at national level]. 

Addis Ababa, as if it doesn’t have a master plan, is demolished and now the city is under construction. How could we be sure that after 15 or 20 years the government will not demolish and reconstruct again? 

We have received problems from previous trends and that is costing us a lot. Our previous master plan did not include all the projects that are under construction currently. Those government agencies responsible for infrastructural works are not collaborating enough and we suffered a lot because of that. Many infrastructural projects constructed with huge amount of money were demolished because of this. In order to avoid repeating the same mistake all stakeholders are now working together. Therefore, I believe that for the next 10 to 20 years, the roads that are constructed will be safe and won’t need to be reconstructed.

Where there are many projects involving huge money, there is a risk of corruption in procurement and down the line. What do you do to avoid this?

Only system can control corruption. If there is no transparent tender system and transparent controlling mechanism, we can’t control corruption. What we do is not different to this. We have clear and transparent procedures for floating tender and controlling quality. We try to follow these mechanisms strictly.

It is said that cobble stone roads are expensive. It is good that the road is constructed with local material and that it opens huge employment opportunity. But the quality of the materials [stones] used is poor. It is porous and can be damaged easily. In other countries, cobble stone roads are made of strong stones.

You are right; the kind of cobble stone available in other country is not like what we see in Ethiopia. We use truck light stone in Addis Ababa. Elsewhere, there are granite stones that are more suitable for road construction. Despite this, according to a study conducted by German experts, the cobble stone roads constructed in Addis Ababa and Adama are estimated to last at least for 50 years. Besides the roads sustainability, greater benefit comes from the job opportunity it is creating. So far close to 70,000 youth got employed.

Why is that higher education graduates participate in these cobble stone projects while the task does not require skills attained at universities? 

We didn’t put criteria to hire university graduates. What is surprising is that even some hired graduates are joining the field because one can make quick money. All other businesses require initial capital, but not cobble stones. Even one can get an initial capital for other businesses by working the cobble stone roads. Perhaps it is for that reason. 

How many university graduates are so far engaged?

The number is small; it is about 400 to 500.

Experts say it is a lot cheaper to construct roads with concretes than bitumen which is imported with hard earned foreign currency. And there is now surplus of cement in the country. Do you plan to build concrete asphalts?

We have already constructed a concrete road from Kality to Hana Mariam [in Addis Ababa] because the asphalt road was repeatedly ruined. Besides, constructing asphalt road requires foreign currency. So the government has decided to build concrete roads. The road constructed by concrete is very good and stays longer than asphalt roads. Asphalts will require maintenance after five years while concrete roads don’t. Roads in Japan for example were built by concrete some 30 years ago. It is also environmentally friendly. So that is the future.

Let’s talk about your social life, how do you spend your leisure time?

I usually spend my spare time including Saturdays and Sundays by visiting construction sites. Most of my spare time is devoted for my job. My family has accepted this. 

And your leadership style?

I am interactive; and I am not bossy. I see all staff from the top to the bottom equally. We engage the workers association in all our planning. We evaluate the implementation of the plan together quarterly. At the end of the year, by assessing our success, the administration awards high performers. 

These days, jobs outside government offices for civil engineers are financially rewarding; young engineers could get 30,000 birr a month working as consultants; and you are here at AACRA having more than 31 years of experience for a little over 20,000 birr salary. Haven’t you ever been tempted to leave the Authority and establish a consulting Firm?

From the beginning why I didn’t choose that direction was because of my family. I wanted to be near to my family. Besides I get satisfaction with what I am doing now. You might generate good money but you might have no name. That is my stand. Thanks to God my decision has helped me to make changes in the city and help my family to get better education. However, since the opportunities are still open, I might think about it in the future.

Tell me about your children; I know your wife is a teacher.

I have seven children; two of them have postgraduate degrees in Civil Engineering and Economics [respectively], while the third one is a 5th year civil engineering student. The fourth one [a daughter] is currently a 4th year Medicine student at Tikur Anbessa [Addis Ababa University]. The rest are high school students.

So you have almost accomplished your mission in the family; does that mean you are now looking for the exit door at AACRA?

Yeah; some how.

Are you training a successor; then?

Of course, but the problem is that those whom I think can succeed me sometimes don’t stay long for many reasons. Cultivating the lower managers and building their capacity is required constantly. I use the criteria of staying in a certain job for a longer time when hiring a new staff. I believe staying in the same place for long makes one to know more. 

Does it require a party membership to run this office?

Not necessarily. Professionals as well as politicians have run AACRA.  And I am not a party member. 

What do you say for the residents of Addis Ababa who suffered a lot due to the construction undertaken currently; and to companies whose businesses have been disrupted by the road construction?

There are definitely people who have been negatively affected as a result of the ongoing construction of roads in the city. But there is nothing intentional; we do it to develop the city. The city has now not more than 4,600Km road; the figure used to be1,500Km few years ago. Currently, the whole city is under construction. Ultimately, the development is good for the society. But still, I want to apologies those who get affected in the process, the residents, the business community and all.

2nd Year . August 2014 . No.17

Berihun Mekonnen

EBR Staff Writter

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