The new Minister of Public Works was appointed about two months ago when the ministry was passing through the worst phase in its history. No minister has ever faced such attacks when the ministry was entrusted to him or her. Even the Al-Qabas daily which is known to be sober did not hesitate to take part in the complaint and criticism of the tragic condition of our roads.
In a country controlled by rumors and ready to accept lies easily, I am forced to deny any connection between me and the Minister of Public Works other than just one or two telephone calls and I realized I was not wrong about what was going on in my mind concerning the reality of the situation and expressed my solidarity with her because of the following facts:
1. The Minister took over the duties and was surprised to learn the ministry had abandoned its road control function for years. It handed over the rest of its decision to the construction companies after the establishment of the Public Roads Authority some of which own asphalt factories and the asphalt inspection laboratories which check the quality of the asphalt they produce and then pave the roads without supervision or control. This does not happen even in the most corrupt countries.
2. Hundreds of employees work in the government road lab but all that they do is receive salaries and does no other work.
3. The rapid Kuwaitization process, the replacement of inexperienced citizens with expatriate experts has left no room for training new cadres and this has contributed to creating a dangerous vacuum that we all paid for.
4. There are 14,500 employees in the Ministry of Public Works, more than half of whom are in the maintenance department, and most of them do not work because they were appointed through wasta (nepotism).
5. The establishment of the Public Roads Authority complicated the problem and nothing was left of what he called ‘responsibility’ because of overlapping of powers and when disaster struck each party put the blame or responsibility on the other.
6. A department cancelled the supervision of the weighing of overland trucks and this encouraged the freight companies to load trucks with twice the permissible tonnage and this had a devastating impact on the roads.
7. Add to this the insistence of the General Traffic Department not to close the roads for vehicular traffic for more than six hours after completing asphalting instead of the necessary 12 hours.
In the light of all these obstacles, the Minister had one of the two options:
A. Spend millions of dinars immediately and repair all the streets of Kuwait to please or silence everyone and after a period of time discover that we have been fooled because the minister is replaced by another and can no longer be held accountable as is with the case with past ministers.
B. Or stop paving the streets completely, studying all of the above and addressing the problem in a radical manner in cooperation with the Kuwait Institute for Scientific Research and the Ministry of Defense and others, using the expertise of the Gulf States, obtaining the approval of the General Traffic Department to extend the closure of roads or lanes for 12 hours, revival of the function of roads lab, imposing the supervision of the government on the pavement works, and reviewing the method of asphalt mix so that the process of pavement is done properly and the problem does not recur.
Yes, we must be ashamed of ourselves in front of our guests not only because of the miserable condition of Kuwait roads but also because of the depth of corruption in the government.
We must be ashamed because we almost all participated in bringing the situation to its present state by electing the worst to represent us, by our silence on the thefts by officials, and by our leniency towards every former Minister of Public Works whom we welcomed in every Diwaniya and our courtesy to them at every meeting until we reached the situation in which we are now.
There was no accountability or punishment, the continuing public apathy and preoccupation with trivial matters, and making dropping loans a vital issue rather than fighting corruption.
I repeat for the tenth time that the problem of Kuwaiti streets and the rest of our health and administrative problems are the result of corruption of conscience, lack of experience and all these chronic intractable issues cannot be solved with the stroke of a pen in two months.
In any way, I am with the minister in the second option, that is to say taking enough in the process of paving whatever the means are to silence the objectors, some of whom may be benefiting from the situation to continue as it is.
By Ahmad Al-Sarraf