Quality of roads in our cities tell us something is not happening right. What exactly is that? A decade ago, one may have said our cities don’t have enough money. But today, at least cities like Bangalore and Pune are not short on resources.
The so-called “system” is setup well enough. Local government allocates money to upgrade or construct roads. Tenders are floated with description of work that needs to be carried out. The best bid – I assume the “cheapest” one – is selected from a contractor that “qualifies” certain criteria. And then, this contractor carries out the work.
And what usually is the quality of such work? Drive on Marathahalli – Sai Baba Ashram road, talked about as the perfect example of PPP. Nice road, built in part contributions from local Real Estate developers. But, take any right or left from this beautiful road, and you will see roads even worse than the ones I showcased from Pune. And at Pune, even the arterial roads have severe quality issues. The pictures in that post are from Junglee Maharaj Road, Fergusson College Road and University Road.
When the budget-tender-contract-execute “system” seems well setup, why do we have these quality issues all around? Of course corruption, no prizes for guessing that. But let me tell you about the two pieces in this overall processes where it hurts the most:
- Selection of contractor: Who decides whose bids are valid and whose bid is the best? How easy it is for a random contractor to complete the documentation “required” to submit a valid bid?
- Who inspects the quality of completed work and signs off saying the work is done and payments can be made?
Most egovernance initiatives target problem #1. A completely online and transparent tendering process should fix this. The word “completely” is important, for if any human has the power to delay anything, you could be inviting corruption.
Road building is a “service”, right? Then, who is the end user or beneficiary? Local government, no? You and me, the citizens, yes! When you pay for a service and get it, isn’t it you who decides how the quality is, right? So why does this happen different in case of road works or any “public” work?
Imagine a process where after finishing his work, a contractor is required to get sign-offs from a fixed percentage of “beneficiaries” of the service he provided. To go hand in hand with this system, imagine a law that calls for penalties if an identified beneficiary does not respond to the quality questionnaire.
Beneficiaries must be identified upfront. This will be the toughest hop in the process. But this process could solve the quality problem. It puts the onus back on the citizens, and that is how it should be. Or else, people like me and you will just crib around and create negativity without doing anything meaningful.