Some doubts may have been cast in the work that the Vanuatu government is trying to achieve through VPMU with its partners through the Port Vila Urban Development Project (PVUDP).

This piece seeks to allay fears, correct inaccuracies and hopefully help you appreciate the complexity of fixing an existing road infrastructure, developed with scant regard for proper town planning from the beginning.

Firstly there have been various references to the original scope of the PVUDP, which was to cover 27km of roads and an “x” km of drainage. Let’s put that matter to rest. Since the signing of the contract between the Vanuatu Government and RMS Engineering in 2016, the contractors have always understood that they have 13kms (not 27kms) of roads to fix and 7kms of drainage to either lay or review and/or repair to ensure the roads in Port Vila are able to handle prevailing extreme weather conditions. This scope has now been reprogrammed to cover 11kms, not 13km. 

The reduction (that is, since the contract was awarded) meant the project could no longer address fully all of the roads envisaged originally, let alone flood-prone sections like Seven Star, or even fully address Manples as projected more than five years ago.

There have even been allegations and/or insinuations in gossip columns that somehow the contractors are syphoning money out from the project. Very serious allegations! Such innuendoes are downright damaging and reflect very poorly on the level of journalism at play. 

Rest assured that given the governance and financial management systems in place chances for such occurrences are minimal. The VPMU, which represents the interests of the public and the government have a duty to ensure projects are implemented fully. Track records so far are clear for everyone to see in the recently completed Lapetasi Multi-Purpose wharf and the Vanuatu Tourism Infrastructure Project already being enjoyed by the public. 

VPMU operates under a Steering Committee (SC). The SC, headed by Parliamentary Secretary in the Prime Minister’s Office Johnny Koanapo (and comprises senior officials in government) calls the shots on all key decisions and has the powers to intervene at key moments to ensure projects are correctly administered and that they are completed to the benefit of the people of Vanuatu. 

VPMU projects also undergo independent audits annually to ensure funds expended are properly accounted for. Anyone interested in these records are most welcome to come by the office and enquire further about any information they wish to know.

Funds 

There have been some interest in how the funds have been allocated to the four different components. Here’s a breakdown of the PVUDP funds. The biggest bulk of the money has come from an Australian Government grant of AUD31 million. The funds include an ADB loan of USD5 million and a Vanuatu Government contribution of USD3.1 million. Total funds are not and never have been USD55 million as portrayed by some reports in 2017.  

This overall project amount however suffered significant losses of approximately USD6.1 million due to foreign exchange losses as the Australian dollar has devalued against the US dollar since 2012 when the financing agreements were signed. 

You will notice that the project had to wait four years before implementation! In 2017 an additional USD2.87 million was injected from the Global Environmental Facility to beef up the overall project financing to USD35.6 million. Not all of these monies are going into fixing the roads. So how are they broken down further?

How funds were allocated

The PVUDP has four key components. The main component is the Urban Roads and Drainage Phase 1. It’s called Phase 1 because the government anticipates that a second phase will receive funding at a later stage. Phase 1 Works are very much visible to everyone in Port Vila. This will be concluded in August, reflecting a delay of about 8 months, not 15 or 18 months as reports have suggested. Phase 1 also includes the George Kalsakau Drive (GKD), done by Chinese contractors, CCECC. The GKD Concourse, which has the overall scope of beautifying GKD is being done by Downer and should be completed by March. The total value of Phase 1 Roads and Drainage is approximately USD20.48 million and comes as the biggest component of the project.

Component 2 addresses a longstanding need for Port Vila, as a growing city, to have a proper septage treatment plant. The facility built by Downer at Bouffa landfill was opened in August 2017. The value of that contract was almost Vt100 million.

The third major component addresses community sanitation needs of seven urban or peri-urban communities of Port Vila and is worth about Vt200 million. Three of these community sanitation facilities were opened in late May 2017, at all three Seaside Communities, while four others are either completed and awaiting an opening, or at the construction stage. Additionally, contracts for two new public toilets at Independence Park and Fatumaru and various refurbishments at the Vila Central Hospital have been awarded and Downer who won the bid have begun construction at Independence Park. The value of this is about Vt48 million.

The government is generally satisfied with the implementation of PVUDP thus far although ideally we would have liked PVUDP to roll at a faster pace. Truth be told, it is just not possible because of how Port Vila was built from the colonial days and the very fact so many unknowns have complicated matters for the contractors. They are summarised here:

Key challenges

There have also been a number of challenges faced by the contractors. But the steps followed by PVUDP have always included planning as well as community and government consultation.  The main challenges encountered by the contractors are listed below and how the Design, Supervision and Capacity Development (DSCD) team who come in as project managers and supervisors under Roughton International, have managed to navigate them. See here:

Overall the government is grateful that PVUDP has generated so much data that will be very useful for the future growth and expansion of Port Vila. Equally important, the project has highlighted key lessons to be learned. 

Nonetheless, the PVUDP has not greatly veered from its scope. While reduced somewhat, the project remains on course to addressing flooding, traffic congestion, the deplorable state of the roads, as well as public and community health to make life safer, more hygienic and comfortable for urban dwellers.