The value of roads to PNG’s economy and its people can hardly be overstated. They are the arteries of PNG. They link farmers to markets and businesses to customers. They enable people and communities to access services and markets. As such, the Transport Sector Support Program (TSSP) is a critical component of Australia’s engagement with the Government and people of PNG.
This evaluation comes ten years into Australia’s 15 to 20 year commitment to support the PNG Government to improve its transport infrastructure. The evaluation identifies a number of TSSP’s important achievements, including its contribution of basic information on road conditions and analysis, which provide a strong foundation for evidence-based decision making.
The report makes it clear that despite the decade of Australian assistance, and contributions of other donors, PNG’s roads remain in poor condition. It is evident from the report that an important reason for this is funding constraints, which have increased in recent years due to declines in energy prices. However, it is also evident that a key reason for the poor condition of PNG’s roads is the underfunding of road maintenance.
Three key observations emerge from this work. First, from my time at the World Bank I know that this problem in not unique to PNG—it is not unusual in developing countries for the political attraction of new roads to result in inadequate funding for maintenance, which provides the highest economic returns and social benefits. On this, it is important to recognise that the condition of roads is PNG’s sovereign responsibility. While Australia can (and has) expressed its views on this issue, it cannot unilaterally affect PNG’s budget decisions.
Second, Australia and other donors have been correct in emphasising the importance of funding for maintenance. Moreover, continuing with TSSP provides a sound basis for Australia to constructively pursue its views on maintenance with the PNG Government. Indeed, sustaining Australia’s efforts to support reform over the life of TSSP could secure enormous long term benefits to the road sector and the economy.
Finally, while the report’s insights on the poor state of PNG’s roads is certainly disappointing, it is important to note that this information is a direct result of TSSP’s work on producing a much more accurate picture of the state of roads in PNG than has existed in the past.