Namibia: Interview with Erastus Ikela

Erastus Ikela

CEO (Roads Authority)

Erastus Ikela

The mission of the Roads Authority of Namibia is to manage the network which is a very important asset for the nation. Could you please give us your thoughts about the evolution of the activities of the Roads Authority?

The Roads Authority is a body established by an act of parliament; that is Act 17 of 1999 which established the Roads Authority to run the business of rehabilitation and maintenance and construction of the road network in the country on commercial basis. The duty at hand as you have mentioned earlier on is to manage the road network to see to it that we have a safe and efficient road network system that can be able to promote economic growth not only here in Namibia but also to interlink Namibia with neighboring countries such as Angola, Botswana, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Zimbabwe and Zambia. It is meant to promote trade between SADC member countries bearing in mind that Namibia has got one of the most efficient port on the African continent, Walvis Bay and bearing in mind that most of our neighbors are landlocked and so we try to promote inter trade and transboundary movement of goods from one country to the other. We are a link with the TransKalahari Highway which links Namibia with Botswana and the Gauteng Province of South Africa and the TranCaprivi High Way which links Namibia with Zambia, Zimbabwe and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The road unfrastructure also assist in conveying imported goods from the ports of entry to the consumers as well as to transport finished goods and raw materials from the hinterland to the ports of exit. In that regard we are not only contributing to the economic growth of the country but the economic potential of SADC as a whole. In any country where there is no roads, there is stagnation so obviously when we try to build roads and feeder roads to the rural population, we will be able to access them to both national and international markets.

Could you please give us some key figures about the Roads Authority itself, how many employees, how much is your budget, how much do you invest per year?

Allow me to clarify something. The Roads Authority per se is not a profit making organization. It is an organization which deals with the management of the Road network in the country as we alluded to earlier on. However I should also try to enlighten you about the source of funding of the Roads Authority. The funding actually comes from the Road Fund Administration which falls under the Ministry of Finance. Their task is to collect funds through fuel levies, mass distance charges and other stipulated sources. They are also tasked with the responsibility to source the funds from private financial institutions.
We set up a budget according to our needs during a particular financial year in terms of maintaining, rehabilitating, upgrading and constructing new infrastructure. With regard to the size in terms of the workforce, we are between 250 and 260 employees deployed in several divisions and sections which are tasked with different functions of the company. Our budget is between 500 and 600 million Namibian Dollars per annum.

This year the Roads Authority has embarked on various exciting projects including the road from Aus to Rosh Pinah and also from Ondangwa to Oshikango. Could you tell us more about these projects?

The road from Aus to Rosh Pinah was actually divided into two phases. The first phase of 118 kilometers which is substantially completed. The project was commenced in 2004 and it is substantially completed. We intend it to be opened by the minister on the 16th of June. It was co-financed by the Road Fund Administration and the African Development Bank. We have the last section of about 96 kilometers which is being co-financed by the Arab Bank for Economic Development in Africa and the Road Fund Administration. The site was handed-over last year in September and we envisage it to run for 18 months and hence believe it will be completed next year. Ondangwa – Oshikango was a rehabilitation which has been completed and on top of that we have 68 kilometers of upgrading to do from gravel to bitumen standard from Outapi via Tsandi to Okahao in the North. That is substantially completed. It will be opened by His Excellency the President in May 2006. We have a section from Opuwo to Omakange which is 100 kilometers which was also substantially completed in March and we intend to have it opened by the Honourable Minister of Works, Transport and Communication, Hon Joel Kaapanda.
So those are the major projects that we have undertaken however the bulk of our money goes into the maintenance of our infrastructure. About 60 percent of our budget goes to maintenance of our gravel roads and bituminous roads throughout the country.

For all these new projects of rehabilitation, construction and maintenance you have mentioned, are you looking for partnership, private companies, etc?

We cannot say we do not need private partnership. It is something that is already working through the Private Public Partnership (PPP) Initiative. It is working in the world. We have not however approached anybody but we welcome any proposal from anybody who would like to partner with us with a view to assist us to deliver good quality service and build the infrastructure for the country.

Do you have any contact with any company?

We have been contacted by several organizations and companies but however we have not found very credible companies per se in business because a sound partnership always comes up with something which is going to be more or less 50 – 50 % in terms of profit but liability but in terms of credibility and quality of infrastructure to be rendered at the end of the day.

What can the Roads Authority in Namibia offer to those investors?

Well as I alluded to the fact that the Roads Authority is not a profit making organization, that is why a lot of people that approach us tend to chicken out when they hear that we are not a profit making organization. They are not credible enough. What could be offered for instance is to enter into a private public partnership arrangement to for example build a road and then the proceeds from there can be taken by the individual company for 10 years or 20 years. May be we agree on percentage allocation that say 40 percent is ours and 60 percent is the company’s and so it goes we use our revenue for the maintenance of the infrastructure while the company continues to collect its share of proceeds until such time that the contract is terminated. But we have not found any investor yet who is ready to take up the challenge. There are certain sections of the road that one could see if you put up toll roads you will be able to make a substantial profit.

You spoke at the beginning about Walvis Bay port that you want it to be one of the most important ports after Durban and Abidjan.

The most effective port in the continent is Walvis Bay in terms of ISO 9000 is the only port in this continent that is ISO accredited. If you go to Durban, you can wait for two weeks for your goods to be cleared but in Walvis Bay because of the equipment and the efficient running of the port your goods will hardly wait for a week for clearance. Durban is big but the question is, is it efficient?

With the increase in volume of goods and services being transported through your roads, how do you see your network coping with the pressure?

The road infrastructure are sound. The corridors are as I have mentioned working. The TransKalahari Highway was built between 1994 and 1996 from a town called Gobabis on the east near Botswana. It was completed in 1997 and the Batswana completed their side. The TrasCaprivi was completed a year earlier. There was a bridge which was completed recently linking western Zambia to Namibia through the TransCaprivi high way. The completion of that bridge means that goods and services are now freely moving and the corridors are activated. There is still an opportunity to increase the volumes. It is very difficult to change the mindset of the people though.

Do you think Namibia can become a hub for the region?

Yes a transport hub actually. We are proud of our road infrastructure and I am proud to say that it is actually the best in the African continent even better than South Africa. We want to keep that image and we are prepared to go an extra mile just to make sure that the infrastructure remains the same in terms of standard if not better.

You government set a goal called vision 2030 which is to see the country prospering in many ways, how is the Roads Authority contributing to this vision?

As I have already mentioned, without roads any country will reach nowhere. The goals which have been set in the two development plans, we have not been able to achieve them 100 % but we have done our level best in terms of providing the road infrastructure and maintaining existing ones and obviously we are still on track with vision 2030. We are sure that by that time we will have upgraded all the current gravel roads to bitumen standard and obviously new ones will be established especially in the previously disadvantaged areas.

I have as well a personal question and that is to know about your personal and professional background.

I was born on the 9th March 1964 in a small village called Ogongo in Omusati region in northern Namibia. I started my primary school there and in 1979 I went to Oshakati Secondary School where after I went to exile to join the movement SWAPO by then at the age of 17. I was sent to attend Secondary school in Nigeria in Kaduna which I finished in June 1985. Then I went to Kaduna Polytechnic where I did a National Diploma in civil engineering and then in 1989 I proceeded to the University of Nigeria where I did my Bachelor of Engineering – Honors in civil engineering. This task was accomplished in September 1994. After the completion of my studies I came back home and joined the Department of Works in the Ministry of Works, Transport and Communication as a Regional Engineer and my first professional career started in town called Rundu, then I was transferred to Keetmanshoop in the South still in the same position and then I was promoted to Senior Engineer and moved to Head office. I was responsible for project coordination in terms of building and coordinating different infrastructure for various ministries. I also had a short stint at NamWater for about one and half years as a senior engineer responsible for planning and construction then I again came back to the Ministry of Works, Transport and Communication as a Deputy Director responsible for railway infrastructure management and subsequently I was promoted to a full Director of that directorate and I was appointed as the Chief Executive Officer of the Road Authority in 2005.

What has been your biggest satisfaction since your appointment as CEO of the Roads Authority?

Well it is too early to say. It takes one a year or so to see your vision becoming a reality. However my biggest satisfaction so far is that I have been able to deploy credible qualified professionals in various sections and division and I am confident that with this formidable team at my disposal I will be able to reach my vision in a shorter period of time. We are busy with the process of ensuring that we give the company a new direction and I can assure you that this will be realized within the shortest possible time.

We are here to promote the Republic of Namibia abroad and especially in the USA. What is your final message you would like to send to an American investor who will be interested to team up with your company?

All I can say is Namibia is a transport hub of SADC. We want it to be so. For setting up industries in Namibia we have an excellent road network which is the best in the African continent interlinking Namibia with all the major SADC centers. An investor from America who set up industries here, could be rest assured that whether they would like to sell their products here or abroad, we have an excellent networks system that can be able to convey the goods from the point of production to the port of Walvis bay to Luanda, Lusaka, to Gaborone, Kinshasa and any other country within the SADC sub region.