On a Friday evening last November, twelve mayors from nearby districts gathered at the municipal office building in Tarapoto, Peru. Even though the rainy season was just ramping-up in this lush tropical area of the country, local roads were already being washed away. These mayors were eagerly planning for the local Provincial Road Institute to use their tractors to protect their roads to counter the negative effects of the rain.
One of them cried out, “How will my people bring grapes and coffee to local markets without good roads? Our products are going to rot and my people are going to suffer.”
Indeed, good roads are very important to rural communities. For just over a decade, the Provincial Road Institute of San Martin has been managing rural roads all over the Province. Throughout this time, they have steadily grown their capabilities in conducting studies, contracting maintenance activities and generally responding to the transportation needs of the area. While not in its original plan, recently the Road Institute acquired several tractors to perform emergency works and keep roads open during the rainy season. It felt responsible for providing access that was desperately needed by the rural communities. In turn, district mayors have allocated resources from their small budgets to purchase fuel for the tractors. Local governments has been working together to solve local issues.
Rural roads are in much better shape in recent years after the creation of the Provincial Road Institute. It has articulated a vision for rural transportation in the province, and helped plan investments in roads with the participation of local political and business leaders and expert consultants. In planning these investments it has stressed the importance of performing constant maintenance on the roads, to ensure their transitability and preserve the value of larger periodic interventions, such as rehabilitations. To provide income and training opportunities for the poor, the Road Institute organized the communities along the roads into microenterprises to perform basic necessary routine maintenance activities of removing debris, filling potholes, and cleaning ditches, among others.
The Provincial Road Institutes are a key piece of the institutional arrangements for the successful decentralization of the rural roads sector. Another important institution is Provias Descentralizado (previously Provias Rural), that reports to the Ministry of Transport and communications. Provias has been in charge of seeking, planning and overseeing the budget allocated for the road works and maintenance, and of building up the knowledge and expertise required managing the subsector and supporting its decentralization nationwide.
The positive impact that this organization has had on the province is unmistakable and rural communities have rightfully grown to expect more from their local government. This renewed faith in public institutions at the local level is what brings those twelve district mayors to Tarapoto on that ordinary Friday evening to discuss how to keep the traffic flowing.
Today, these experiences are common all over Peru thanks to a series of projects that the central Government has implemented with the help of the World Bank and the Inter-American Development Bank. Not only have these projects rehabilitated around 16,500 km of roads since 1995 and made sure they received adequate maintenance, but they have accomplished this in an increasingly decentralized way.
Provincial Road Institutes were created in all of Peru’s 193 provinces (excluding Lima), and they have been continuously strengthened to be able to accept the responsibility of managing their rural roads in their jurisdictions effectively. In fact, through these efforts, the rural roads sector became the trailblazer for the government’s broad decentralization agenda, demonstrating that local governments have the capability and interest to plan and execute complex projects if they are given the appropriate assistance and resources.
In addition to organizing and financing the routine maintenance microenterprises, Provincial Road Institutes have recently started contracting and managing periodic maintenance activities, which are conducted on average every five years. These contracts are much bigger in size, and require more technical and administrative capabilities on the part of the Road Institutes; however they have successfully managed these contracts so far. Additionally, to enhance their planning capabilities, 85 percent of them have developed Geographic Information System inventories of their road that include also information on communities, schools and health centers.
By being closer to the beneficiary communities, the Provincial Road Institutes have increased responsiveness and transparency to the constituents by preserving the road investments and making sure there is all weather access.
Elaborated with the collaboration of Sebastian E. Guerrero, PhD Berkeley University.