European-funded roads in sub-Saharan Africa are deteriorating prematurely, and sometimes dramatically, because of poor maintenance and inadequate law enforcement by African governments, the European Court of Auditors (ECA) says.
In Burkina Faso, the ECA noted that the life expectancy of 44% of EU-funded roads has dropped from 15 to four years, largely because one in five vehicles is overloaded.
The report, which was issued on Tuesday (15 January), focuses on how African governments maintain roads built with EU money. It also concludes, however, that the European Commission must share some of the blame for their deterioration, for not taking a firmer approach in the preparatory phases.
It said that its audit of six countries, which account for roughly one-quarter of funds channelled by member states through the European Development Fund (EDF) over the past 15 years, highlighted the need for the EU to focus on promoting institutional and policy reform before it provides funds, to impose tougher conditions, and to pay more attention to the problem of overloaded vehicles.
The ECA says that the report, which follows a 2003 audit of procedures and controls in the construction process, found that African countries generally prefer to rebuild rather than maintain roads.
However, it also found a wide variance between countries. In Tanzania, just 1.6% of vehicles are overloaded, while the figure in Benin was 46%, a problem compounded by the lack of a national road agency, cartels and petty corruption.
The ECA found that the Commission makes “significant efforts” to improve road policy in Africa and to stress the importance of maintenance. However, it said that the Commission has set “few conditions about institutional reform”, “rarely sets preconditions which must be met before it will agree to sign a financing agreement”, and has underestimated the impact that overloaded lorries have on roads.
The ECA's Szabolcs Fazakas said that “the European Commission should control that the institutions [in recipient countries] are working well” and that technical support provided by the Commission has been “less successful than could have been expected”.
Andris Piebalgs, the European development commissioner, said that the report “ties in very well with our own ‘agenda for change',” the development strategy drawn up by him and now endorsed by the EU's member states.
While Africa remains dependent on road transport – 80% of goods are carried by road – the Commission is moving away from wholly funding roads as part of what a Commission official described as a “rationalisation” of development aid. Member states have been cutting their bilateral aid and are discussing cutting the draft 2014-20 budget for the EDF – which is independent from the EU budget – by €3 billion, from the €30bn proposed by the Commission.
To increase the impact of EU money, Piebalgs advocates the ‘blending' of EU support with funds from other international institutions and the private sector.
The EDF spent €7.4 billion on building roads in Africa between 1995 and 2011, but Werner Vlasselaer of the ECA said that this was “relatively little compared with the needs, and so [the EU] should look for means to complement” its funding. The ECA's recommendation specifically calls for the Commission to promote “private-sector participation in financing the upgrading and expansion of the road network”.