Why is the Kyrgyz Republic pursuing road sector reform? One obvious reason is to make sector operations more efficient and effective in light of limited resources.
Several factors drive the push for reform in this regard, such as a historic lack of transparency in the use of allotted sector funds, unclear distribution of responsibility between each level of management, and the country’s limited revenue stream.
Another key reason, however, is the importance of establishing a stake in transit traffic in Central Asia.
The government recognizes the Kyrgyz Republic’s strategic location at the crossroads of the region, and the potential for economic growth that can be generated by its international roads. Such a road network needs to be robust for the country to take better advantage of the Eurasian Customs Union and the Belt and Road Initiative, and to raise its profile in the global economy.
With such high stakes involved, the old way of running the road sector simply will not work.
The government approved in 2015 its Road Sector Strategy, which seeks to promote economic development by providing access to markets for goods, labor and social services, and make the whole sector more sustainable by improving the road sector management system. The Kyrgyz Republic is following an aggressive agenda to ensure its role as a key player in transit trade, and in the development of a regional road network in Central Asia.
Key priorities include a staged reform of road sector management, creating a research and development center for the sector, and expanding the country’s international roads by 60%, from 1,600 km to 2,675 km by 2025.
The road sector reform aims to provide transparency in the use of budget funds, a clear distribution of responsibilities between each level of management, and to modernize road technical regulations.
The first stage of the reform process, which includes a realignment of the Ministry of Transport and Roads, consolidating road maintenance units, and gradually moving toward a client-contractor relationship, is almost completed. Sixteen legislative acts have been drafted to formalize the changes.
With the reforms, the government hopes to meet a key development challenge: maintain the country’s 34,000 km of roads in good condition while it expands its international road network.
Road sector reform is a monumental task
While aggressive borrowing from bilateral and multilateral partners may suffice in the short term, more sustainable solutions are needed if the road assets built are to be protected from deteriorating too quickly with increasing traffic.
Development partners, including ADB, are assisting the government on many fronts to safeguard its road assets. They are helping the Kyrgyz Republic take stock of its road infrastructure; devise legal, financial, and institutional solutions to enhance sustainability; and implement the performance-based maintenance contract method for more effective use of resources in road preservation.
These are all monumental tasks that the government cannot accomplish alone.
Through its partnership over the past twenty years, ADB has assisted the country in developing its road network, rehabilitating nearly 900 km of roads. The challenge now is to help the government exploit and manage its potential for economic growth through its road assets.
Last month, more than 80 road sector stakeholders gathered in Bishkek to participate in the Kyrgyz Republic International Road Sector Conference organized by the Ministry of Transport and Roads, with support from ADB. The conference was held to highlight progress in road sector reform, and analyze current Kyrgyz road development and maintenance trends.
Development and other sector partners shared experience in public-private partnerships, procurement challenges, and environment and resettlement safeguards. International experts discussed the road asset management system and performance-based maintenance contract system that the Kyrgyz Republic is piloting.
Participants also raised concerns about road safety issues and accident rates in the country.
In one candid moment during the conference, a presenter was asked why, despite so many difficulties in awarding performance-based maintenance contracts, the country was still trying this method.
“If we were always afraid of failure,” the presenter replied, “many great inventions and changes would never have happened.”
Road sector reform to meet a long-term development agenda in the Kyrgyz Republic is one of these great changes. We expect a lot of hard work and a number of failures, but we still help to make change happen.