The importance of maintenance

The importance of maintenance

How can we make maintenance matter?

“Maintenance is perhaps the single most important element of government’s stewardship obligation. It is also...the one most likely to be cut from the current expense budget.” National Council on Public Works Improvement, Final Report to the President and Congress, February 1988.

The long term potential of infrastructure in addressing the MDGs can only be realised through maintenance. Neglecting the fabric of a country impacts physical assets, but more significantly infrastructure deterioration affects access to basic services, economic opportunities and human wellbeing.

“Road maintenance in Africa could save $2.6 billion a year”

There is substantial evidence of the economic benefits of maintenance. Despite this, underinvestment in maintenance remains endemic and policies alter regularly with changes in governments, donors and development agency personnel.

The key issues include:

  • A significant amount of the overall cost of infrastructure is in operation and maintenance, but politicians do not always understand that money is required for operation and maintenance after construction of new infrastructure

  • Most developing countries are unable to meet their infrastructure investment or maintenance requirements (estimated at $93 billion in Africa alone)

  • Many donors have prioritised funding for new construction, leaving maintenance to national budgets

  • The perceived short term public support for new projects can eclipse the long term benefits of investment in maintenance

  • Maintenance solutions are normally geared to project rather than asset life-cycles, which leaves large gaps in infrastructure funding

  • The importance of new infrastructure provision to support socio-economic growth is well recognised, but the potential of infrastructure maintenance as a powerful tool of economic growth and service delivery needs to be better understood

Give maintenance as much attention as the provision of new infrastructure

Long-term planning for operation and maintenance must be a priority. Governments and donors should adopt procurement strategies which explicitly address this.

Maintaining existing infrastructure:

  • Develops long term economic and human capital
  • Creates jobs
  • Preserves asset performance and improves service delivery
  • Extends asset life and reduces long term costs – “$1 spent on road maintenance saves $4 on rehabilitation”
  • Unlocks funding for the provision of new infrastructure

Example mechanisms for funding maintenance:

  • Requirements in loan or project agreements for maintenance reserve funds/procuring spare parts
  • Public Private Partnerships (PPPs)
  • Public or community management through user charges
  • Privatisation of utilities
  • Performance based contracts (see box)

Historic under-investment has degraded institutional ability to manage maintenance. A focus on training, not just funding, is needed.

Different contexts require different approaches and solutions. Examples include:

Total Management Plan (TMP)
The TMP quantifies and assesses the condition of assets, prioritises expenditure and identifies sustainable options for cost savings and improvements. Since many public sector institutions do not have the resources to address maintenance issues and deal with backlogs in new infrastructure provision, maintenance expenditure should be prioritised for infrastructure of strategic importance, i.e. that which underpins the core economic and social development of the country.

Performance Based Contracts (PBC)
PBCs aim to improve the long term operation of assets by linking supplier rewards to asset performance, so can be structured to encourage regular maintenance.
The key challenge is to establish a cooperative environment with an appropriate risk/reward balance.

Further reading:

Cardno Infrastructure Maintenance
The World Bank (2009) Performance-Based Contracts for Preservation and Improvement of Road Assets TN-27, Stankevich at al