Timor-Leste needs a road sector maintenance program and this program must include an institutional set-up, a policy framework, programming, implementation capacity, and funding that are effective and adequate.
The coverage and quality of the maintenance that can be expected on project roads should be thoroughly assessed and spelled out upfront before future interventions in the country.
Water improvement projects significantly impact the lives of women in both rural and urban areas. Notwithstanding this, the project’s design and monitoring framework included only one gender-based impact indicator, indicating the lack of a gender perspective in project planning and formulation. Strengthening the gender dimension of ADB water supply projects is a must, and additional indicators need to be developed to gauge each project’s contributions to improving women’s plight and status as customers and participants in the projects. Being immersed in the need to rationalize water uses in their homes and communities, women can also be tapped to have a key role in ensuring that water services are delivered in a sustainable and optimal manner.
ADB provided $1 million for the Dili Water Supply Performance Improvement Technical Assistance (TA) to support DNSA capacity strengthening. The TA focused on improving management, human resources, and technical skills to maintain the new network systems and enhance meter management and customer service systems. In many cases, however, these skills were not applied as the project activities they intended to support had not even commenced by the time the TA closed in March 2011. The loss of trained individuals further eroded the benefits aimed to be delivered through the linked TA. Overall, the TA design was based on three key conditions that did not occur: (i) the MPW would allocate adequate resources to the DNSA, (ii) the DNSA would be restructured to become a commercially focused water business, and (iii) the TA and the project would be implemented concurrently. These shortfalls reduced the relevance of the TA and prevented it from having a value-addition to the project outcomes.
Implementation of this project did not occur as planned, and six extensions were required to meet the key provisions of the grant agreement. The extensions, which stretched the implementation period by an additional 52 months, were caused by delays in consultant recruitment and civil works tender and contract awards and slow construction and civil works progress. Future projects can do better by ensuring that implementation schedules are feasible and reflect the actual capacity of the project executing and implementing agencies. A series of short extensions, which creates additional administrative workload with corresponding cost increases, should be avoided.
A clearly defined partnership agreement between ADB and Timor-Leste on human and financial resources is required as well as a timeline for critical actions and the implementation of remedial measures should these critical actions not occur. Given the importance of the sector to human development, livelihoods, and poverty reduction, it is important that ADB stays engaged in the water sector of Timor-Leste. Furthermore, if the government’s policy actions are slow, it is recommended that a slower reform road map be detailed, with a lower investment plan, until a conducive environment exists to continue implementing the required actions. Establishing the right institutions to support the effective and efficient implementation of future projects should also be aimed for by the partnership agreement.
Given the limited capacity and budget resources of countries in transition such as Timor-Leste, a flexible approach may need to be adopted to financing operating costs and O&M contracts and the provision of the required national expertise as part of an initial capacity development and service delivery plan. In a fragile environment, it is important that the Asian Development Bank (ADB) is committed to a long-term water sector engagement, based on the partnership with government achieving critical performance and reform milestones and providing the basis for a long-term sustainability plan.
This project’s design was overambitious, given Timor-Leste’s fragile and post-conflict environment. It overestimated the institutional capacity of the executing agency, the Directorate of the Ministry of Public Works (MPW), and the implementing agency, the National Directorate of Water Services (DNSA), but underestimated the behavioral change required of consumers and the time needed for civil works procurement and implementation. Furthermore, the project benefits were in part dependent on transforming the DNSA into an independent water utility, which was not realized during the project period. The preparation of a roadmap for the sector reform process was recommended but was not taken up by the government, except for some initial studies on public-private partnership options. Overall, as project preparation was not informed by a thorough assessment of government readiness and capacity to undertake reforms, provide counterpart staff and budget, and implement tariffs that would entail significantly changing customer behavior, it failed to incorporate these key aspects in the project design. Such an assessment would also have facilitated the preparation of a risk management plan, which would have led to better project performance and greater resilience in the face of Timor-Leste’s still unstable political economy.
Remarkably below its 232-kilometer (km) appraisal target, this project rehabilitated only 37.6 km of national roads. Design standards for national roads, required by Timor-Leste’s Strategic Development Plan, 2011−2030, triggered huge increases in construction works, making it imperative for the project to reduce the component’s scope to remain within the funding envelope. Drawing on this experience, which seemed inevitable because of the commencement just then of government efforts to establish road design standards in Timor-Leste, project teams should seek clear guidance from counterparts on the design standards to use in future road projects. Furthermore, given that it is also not clear if detailed design standards exist for each category of roads now classified as (i) national, (ii) municipal, and (iii) rural, with national roads considered as class A and municipal as class C, it would help if ADB would bring up this matter with government and suggest improvements, if necessary. Improvements can include incorporation of climate change proofing and road safety into the design standards.
The project intended to promote the national contracting industry as indicated by the size
of the civil works contract packages in the procurement plan prepared at appraisal. Six of the seven rehabilitation contract packages were initially kept within the national competitive bidding (NCB) threshold of $1 million to encourage national contractors to participate. However, because of higher cost estimates during the detailed design stage, the rehabilitation contracts were repackaged. Ultimately, only two maintenance contracts, and none for road rehabilitation, were procured following NCB procedures. To contribute to the task of developing Timor-Leste’s contracting industry, ongoing and future road projects should include small contract packages, a strategy that has been seen to work in several ADB developing countries. Efforts to build the capacity of the national contractors through training and other knowledge activities should also be explored.
There is a need to start routine maintenance immediately to protect this project’s investment on road improvement. The model used by the Roads for Development program has yielded successful results. The program, financed by Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade with technical support from the International Labor Organization, engages communities through national contractors to undertake routine maintenance. Without ruling out the need for formulating a comprehensive road maintenance program for national roads, in relation to which the proposed Transport Sector Master Plan is suggesting a policy dialogue between government and development partners, the model could be considered for adoption in ADB-financed national roads.