Parliament on Sunday passed the ‘Road Maintenance Fund Board Bill, 2013’ providing for the creation of a fund for proper maintenance, repair and renovation of roads under the Roads and Highway Department (RHD).
Communication Minister Obaidul Quader piloted the Bill that was passed by voice vote in the House. Earlier, opposition MPs ANM Mahbub Uddin Khokan, Nilufar Chowdhury Moni, Shahid Uddin Chowdhury Anee, Nazim Uddin Ahmed, Jafrul Islam Chowdhury, Shammi Akhter, Rehana Akther Ranu, Harun-Or-Rashid, Rasheda Begum Hira, Golam Mostafa, Amzad Hossain, Syeda Ashifa Ashrafi Papia, Lutfar Rahman, AKM Hafizur Rahman, Abul Khayer Bhuiyan, and ANM Shamsul Islam, and independent lawmaker M Fazlul Azim proposed some changes, opposing the Bill. They also called for eliciting public opinion on the Billl.
The opposition and independent lawmakers said the proposed Road Maintenance Fund will be another means of looting for the ruling party leaders and activists. They also criticized the government for the deplorable condition of the roads and highways across the country. Shammi Akhter alleged that a very close relative of the Prime Minister was involved in the Padma Bridge corruption. She also said that the “ruling party wanted” to collect their election expenditure from this Fund. In reply, Communication Minister Obaidul Quader said that his ministry is passing the greatest time in the history, considering its transparency and accountability. He said that the Jatrabari flyover might be open for use from September next.
Regarding the Fund, Obaidul Quader said it would take more than six months to implement the Fund. “There is no scope for looting, Secretary of the Ministry will be the head of this Fund, not the Minister,” he said. As per the newly passed Bill, there will be a Board consisting of 13 members and its main office will be situated in Dhaka.
The Board members will include Secretary of Road Division (who will be the chairman); Secretary of Bridge Division, representatives from Finance Division, Road Division and Infrastructure Division; BRTA chairman; BRTC chairman; executive director of Dhaka Transport Coordination Authority; chief engineers of RHD and LGED; a professor of civil engineering department of Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology (BUET); and one BRTA nominated representative of the Road Transport Owners Association. The Bill will pave the way for forming the self-financed ‘Road Fund’ in the country on the basis of long-pending recommendations by the development partners. According to the Communication Ministry sources, the size of the proposed Fund will be a minimum Tk 200 crore.
The Fund will be available for direct spending on repair, maintenance and renovation works of roads and highways under the Roads and Highways Department (RHD). According to the objective of the Bill, there is 21,571 kilometers of roads under the RHD. Of the total, 3,570 kilometers is national highway, 4,323 kilometers regional highway and 13,678 kilometers of district roads. A huge amount of money is spent every year for repair and maintenance of these roads.
The main aim of the formation of the Road Fund is to create a fund for proper maintenance, repair and renovation of these roads and collect money for this fund to ensure timely and uninterrupted supply of money for the same purpose.
In the recent years, the backlog is gradually increasing as the supply of money for the maintenance of roads could not meet 13-16 percent of the demand. “It is now a demand of time to form a full-fledged Fund for proper maintenance, repair and renovation of roads,” said the objective of the Bill. It also mentioned that the development partners are continuously pressuring to form this Fund. Officials in the Communication Ministry said that initially it was planned to form the Road Fund along with that for the Local Government and Rural Development (LGRD) ministry for the same purpose relating to roads falling under the operational domain of the local government bodies.
But due to the LGRD Ministry’s objections to form the Road Fund, the Ministry of Communication began working to create the Fund with own resources. The Ministry of Communication received the Cabinet committee’s nod for the first draft Road Fund Bill in 2009, but due to the alleged non-cooperation by the LGRD Ministry, the draft was shelved. The fresh efforts on forming the road fund with only the road sector’s collection were taken in 2011.