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Gabonese Republic: Road Maintenance Project (Loan 3046-GA)

The Implementation Completion Report (ICR) on the Gabonese Republic Road Maintenance Project (Loan 3046-GA, approved in FY90), prepared by the Central Africa and Indian Ocean Regional Office, with no contribution from the Borrower, was reviewed by the Operations Evaluation Department (OED). The loan for US$30 million was approved in July 1989, and closed in June 1995, one year and a half later than planned. The project was cofinanced by the African Development Bank which did not comment on the ICR. US$462,351 was canceled.

The project's objectives were to: (i) maintain the road network in good repair and lengthen its service life; (ii) maintain vehicle operating costs at a reasonable and stable level; (iii) improve access to agricultural and forestry areas; and (iv) develop national capacity in road management and initiate a policy change toward privatization in road maintenance organization and execution. The project consisted of: (a) a three-year program of road maintenance to be carried out by contract for the priority roads and by force account for unpaved roads; (b) training of road maintenance staff; and (c) technical assistance for institutional strengthening and studies for the development of the road sector.

The project's physical objectives were achieved, but its institutional objectives were not. The maintenance work planned at appraisal was completed with acceptable quality, though at higher costs, due to inadequate engineering design of sub-projects. The economic rate of return-14 to over 200 percent at appraisal- could not be re-estimated in the ICR because of unavailability of traffic and cost data. The main institutional objective (to develop a domestic capacity to plan, manage, supervise and undertake road maintenance and rehabilitation, gradually taking over in-line positions now held by foreigners) was not achieved, in spite of large technical assistance expenditures (over 30 percent of the Bank loan plus substantial donor financing). In conflict with project objectives of moving towards privatization of road maintenance activities, the road equipment component was increased by two and a half times that of the appraisal amount. Equipment maintenance was poor, and this may jeopardize project sustainability, as well as prospects for privatization of both equipment and road maintenance.

OED rates the project outcome as unsatisfactory, its institutional development impact as negligible, and its sustainability as uncertain. These ratings are consistent with those in the ICR. Bank performance is rated as unsatisfactory: preparation was insufficient, appraisal overlooked important risk factors, and supervision failed to follow up on the objective of reducing force account maintenance in favor of contracting out.

Two lessons emerge. First, shifting from government force account towards private sector contracting requires both a commitment on the part of the government and a consistent implementation, backed up by broad-based development of human resources, consistency of Bank support and good supervision. Second, the technical assistance program suffered from deficiencies that are all too common: its duration was too short, a large share of the work was done by expatriates, their counterparts were appointed late or not at all, and many lacked the minimum qualifications to benefit from the training as delivered. The ICR is satisfactory. No audit is planned.

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