The African Road Maintenance Fund Association (ARMFA) 20th General Assembly, scheduled from 3rd to 6th April 2023 in Maputo, Mozambique, was officially opened by Mozambique President Filipe Jacinto Nyusi.
Members representing the association’s 35 African country member states as well as international guests will participate in the event.
Namibia, represented by the Road Fund Administration’s CEO, Mr. Ali Ipinge, has held the Association’s Presidency since January 2021. Ipinge’s two-year reign is expected to conclude in May 2023.
During his remarks speech as the President of ARFMFA, Ipinge said, “It is a known fact that the most dominant mode of transport for goods, services, and people on the continent is by road – over 90%. Africa has an estimated total road network of around 2.9 million km, of which only 30% are surfaced roads, with a 3rd of the actual roads located in the SADC region. While several countries have done reasonably well in the upgrading and upkeep of crucial transport corridors leading from Ports into African hinterlands, more needs to be done. The inefficiencies and bottlenecks in our transport systems, coupled with artificial barriers and high cross-border tariffs, continue to hamper economic growth and regional integration.
With a population of 1.4 billion people, Africa continues to have one of the lowest roads per capita in the World, which is not ideal if we are to fast-track our development agenda. Road development and Economic development are synonymous in this case.”
“Therefore, the theme for this General Assembly is befittingly called “Aligning Sustainable Financing to the Needs of the Road Sector in Africa.” It is thus incumbent on all of us (governments, public institutions, private sector, and Development Partners) to advocate for and influence the efficient and effective allocation of resources and management of our road infrastructure. Undoubtedly, a Road Maintenance Fund, which is run independently and, on a sound, commercial basis, and well-capacitated, can and will contribute meaningfully to the socio-economic growth and development of its citizens through better and quality roads.”
Ipinge added, “The road sector reforms of the 1980s and 90s, supported by the World Bank and other International Cooperating Partners, created exemplary models for independent, well-governed, and sustainable road funds. The “user-pay principle” model has worked well over the years and should continue. Governments must support the independence of Road Funds and Road Agencies and hold them accountable to deliver on their mandates.”
Ipinge added, “In reflection of the path that ARMFA has traversed over the years, the unity of ARMFA, and the sustainability of its member states, the continent continues to face numerous challenges. Since the COVID-19 pandemic, some Road Funds have been under imminent threat of closure, abolishment, or merged with national roads authorities or other state agencies; or absorbed into Government departments. This, indeed, is regressive to the original ideals and thinking. We have also observed that where this has occurred, road infrastructure conditions have deteriorated and suffered.”
Globally, the User-pay principle has proven to provide financial stability for road maintenance and generate value and benefits for road users and the public. With the correct application of the above principles, we hope the continent will achieve its developmental goals as enshrined in Agenda 2063.
A case in example is Namibia, Mozambique, and Zambia – they have now positioned themselves to not only fund road maintenance and rehabilitation from road user charges but are going beyond the traditional mandate and undertaking new development and construction with the support of the government. Such approaches will allow for better planning and offering end-to-end solutions to prioritise road development. The thought of Africa migrating to 4th Generation Road Funds, as with developed countries, is therefore plausible.
We are now experiencing a steady decline in fuel levy income, of which traditionally, fuel levy has been the most significant single revenue source contributor to most of our Road Funds. This reduction is partly due to the introduction of fuel-efficient vehicles coupled with the emergence of cars vehicles, and in some instances, changes in Tax regimes. While this is good for consumers and our planet, for the road sector, it means fewer resources available to maintain our roads.
Therefore, our Road Funds and, by extension, Governments need to reposition themselves and adopt new revenue collection instruments amidst the threats of global fuel supply and the emergence of electric and fuel-efficient vehicles.
There are some emerging reasonable home-grown solutions on the Continent, such as distance-based road user charges in the Western Cape, South Africa; the Mass Distance Charges in Namibia. This, coupled with Tolling Systems being implemented across Africa and some other innovative road user charges on the continent, can assist countries in diversifying their traditional road user charges income and funding streams. The Experts that we have invited to this Assembly will be unpacking some of these new concepts and tools for us.
During this Assembly, discussions will feature some key topics on “Funding towards Climate Change Adaptation and Resilience”. We have all seen the devastating effects of the floodwaters in KwaZulu Natal Province of South Africa in 2022, this year alone, we have seen catastrophic damages and loss of lives from tropical cyclones/storms resulting in recent floods and landslides here in Mozambique, Madagascar, and Malawi. We are now ever more vulnerable to climate change, and these events are expected to occur more frequently.
We, therefore, need to take serious heed of these catastrophic events and need to do things differently and “out of the box,” which must include new mechanisms for designing and construction of climate-resilient roads of high standards. Although this may make the building of roads and other transport infrastructure more expensive in short term, the long-term gains far outweigh the initial high construction costs.
As I will be handing over the leadership baton of our Association to the next President, good progress has been made in bringing the Association where it is today. I am confident that with the imminent appointment of our Association Secretary General, and the opening of our Permanent Office in Nairobi, Kenya, I have no doubt that ARMFA will grow from strength to strength and become an active player in all matters of African roads and transport infrastructure development.