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Public Works Rural Agenda: A New Dawn for Rural Cities?

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The Republic of Liberia is evidently far behind its neighbors and other African nations in terms of infrastructural development. The Republics of Ghana, Nigeria, and Guinea have outdone Liberia infra-structurally. City roads networks and high ways are in better and modern conditions than Africa’s oldest independent state. It seems difficult to understand why a nation that is 165 years old with lots of natural riches has not paved all of its city streets and highways. Can it be that Liberia is jinxed; or simply the fact that we have lost hold of development priorities?

Liberia’s 14 years civil war was not only caused by lack of democratic governance, but also lack of economic and social opportunities for the rest of Liberians in the under privileged rural parts. The realization on the part of rural dwellers that they ceased to be conspicuous part of the body polity through various governments’ deprivation polices led to destructive tendencies and aggression and now a mass movement to Monrovia from rural parts that have swelled the capital city to population explosion. It appears that salvation is now near as Public Works infrastructural agenda is now significantly focusing rural cities.

Just before Christmas, the Vice President of the Republic of Liberia broke grounds for the pavement of 6.85km of city streets in Voinjama, Lofa County in a colorful program. This US$5,435,323.00 project is a result of a 2009 cooperation agreement between the Swedish Feeder Road Project and the Government of Liberia. GOL funding portfolio is put at US$3,256,279.00 while Sweden provides US$2,179,043.00. The project is expected to be completed by 2015. An array of Government Officials including the Minister of Public Works, Kofi Woods and his technical team participated in the Ground Breaking Ceremony which took place on Saturday, December 22, 2012.

Since the founding of Liberia, the pavements of city streets have been selective and unprogressive. Besides the cities of Harper in Maryland County and Buchanan in Grand Bassa County, Liberia city streets and major highways have been muddy during the raining season and dusty during the dry season. The Voinjama City Streets ground breaking thus became exhilaration and history making and signifying a new dawn for Liberia. History recalls the historic formation of the Organization of African Union in this rural city in 1958. Its poor infrastructures since that time have been a national shame and disgrace. The completion of the project will be a monumental achievement for the Government of President Sirleaf and the Kofi’s administration at Public Works.

“The decision of paving the streets of Voinjama City, one of the 15 provincial capitals in Liberia, is unprecedented and momentous as it marks the first time in recent history especially under this administration, that streets in cities in Liberia outside of Monrovia are being paved. This represents major components of Public Works infrastructural strategy to expand on urban renewal programs…” says Minister Kofi Woods.

The Ministry of Public Works and its young minister has been recently the center of public criticisms. Some members of the public are demanding his resignation due to bad road conditions in country. Minister Woods is being held responsible though unreasonably as bad road conditions have been an existing national problem from one administration to another. Liberia’s national budget has failed to adequately address the huge infrastructural commitment Government has to Liberians over the years.

The Government of Liberia under President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf embarked on quick impact infrastructural projects since 2006 to transform Liberia’s infrastructures from war time to peace time. Due to limited funding, some of the projects did not meet up with international engineering standards for durability. Some of the projects included the Jallah Town road pavement and the SKD road pavement- both of which has been done twice under Minister Donzo and are now in repairs or reconstruction states. According to road engineers, durability of roads is determined by specifications and funding. A mile of road construction and asphalt road pavement is said to cost about US$1M. When funding falls below that amount, international specification and durability are hindered. This is said to be the existing conditions of the two roads and others under the administration of Luseno Donzo.

Minister Woods reassures that, “Those inherited problems are now being addressed and assures the public of the durability of the current reconstruction and pavement of the SKD Boulevard.” Over the years, Government’s budget did not emphatically emphasize roads infrastructure which is cardinal to modernization and economic diversifications and developments. But on the contrary, GOL emphasis has been centered on the establishment of more political and organizational structures with high fiscal impact analysis and spending which strangulates and drains national revenues. However, enormous progress has been made in standard and specification as in the case of the GSA, Nezoe, Red Light roads and others under construction by the current administration.

President Sirleaf alludes that there is a departure from that course to full concentration on infrastructure. In the midst of constraints, the Government of Liberia, through the Public Works Minister has been engaging international partners to boost Liberia’s infrastructural programs. For an example, Minister Woods says the cooperation agreement between the Liberian and the Swedish Governments has reached an investment portfolio of US$32M for construction, rehabilitation and maintenance of feeder roads in Liberia to increase agricultural production, marketing and other economic activities. About 1,067,000 persons in Lofa, Bong, and Nimba counties are to benefit.

Reports from Lofa indicate that 152.65km of feeder roads have been rehabilitated completely by the Ministry of Public Works under the Swedish/Liberia Program. The Vice President of Liberia, His Excellency Dr. Joseph Nyumah Boakai has dedicated major feeder roads which include the Voinjama to Barkedu 24.50km, Voinjama to Bolongoidu 16.40km, Voinjama to Kubemai 13.10km, Voinjama to Jailamia 18.20km, Lawalazu to Vezela 13.40km and Tanu Moina to Bajagizi 16.36km. Others are the Borkeza to Kpassagizia 18.90km, Salayea to Zolowo to Makesu 16.00km, Salayea to Tinsu to Fassawala 12.70km and the Kpasagiza to Guinea Border 3.10km. Five of these feeder roads are located from Voinjama, two from Salayea, one from Zorzor and one from Kpasagiza. This is commendable of the Woods’ administration, says Mr. Sheriff, a resident of Voinjama. On December 3, 2012, Vice President of Liberia, Joseph Nyumah Boakai broke grounds for the rehabilitation of six feeder roads projects in Nimba County totaling 106km. sources say technical supervision was done by Assistant Minister for Operation, Engr. William L. Slurr

The dedication of these projects seems to suggest that the concentration of the Ministry of Public Works has not been the rehabilitation of streets in the capital city as perceived by critics and disenchanted Liberians; but also the urban and rural parts of Liberia. Development experts have proposed that the Ministry engages the population of Liberia at a weekly radio and television education program on the mandate and operation of Public Works. Citizens need to understand construction activities going on in the country as well as problems the ministry is faced with. They claim most city dwellers activities and mental responses are subjected to the belief that Monrovia is Liberia and therefore do not understand what national development entails and the scope of the Ministry’s achievements. Even so, urban and rural dwellers need to understand their infrastructural predicaments. At the moment, Liberia’s greatest challenge now is climatic change which is a result of global warming.

The effectiveness of Public Works relies on the availability of adequate funding, GOL sources have said. Liberia’s infrastructural needs are tremendous considering the level of destruction of its infrastructures during the civil war. These sources say over US5$B is required to bring Liberia’s infrastructures to standard and the pavement of all highways and city streets as well as constructing new ones. Though there are no technical assessment data to back up their claims, it is presumed they could be right. Liberia’s national budget has not yet reached a billion US dollars. What GOL has been appropriating for Public Works for over six years now is said to be negligible and unable to handle the infrastructure demands of the population. Unless GOL concentration goes above political pronouncements, the ministry or minister would always come under public condemnation. However, there are indications that strives being made to meet the immediate social and economic requirements of nationhood.

Minister Woods says his vision for 2013 is to commence pavement of the Red Light/Gbarnga Road. According to him, his infrastructure strategy is to ensure that all primary roads go through cities and to have city streets paved. This has begun in Voinjama. In the Capital City of Monrovia, Public Works is presently redoing the SKD Boulevard that was done twice under Minister Donzo’s guidance. The project is worth US$3M and is being done in compliance with durability and acceptable engineering standards, according to the Minister.

Residents and the business community of Somalia Drive are more critical of Minister Woods’ administration. Who can blame them? The perennial traffic congestion from morning to night is frustrating, stressful, intimidating, and sickening. “The Doe’s administration had found lasting solutions before its demise,” says a Gardnersville community leader. “The Kesseley Boulevard would have eased traffic congestion by creating another route to the city center as there were also plans to expand the Somalia Drive into four lanes,” says another resident.

In an interview with the Public Works Minister, this columnist has been assured that by March 2013, the Japanese Government will begin implementing its commitment to the Liberian Government regarding the reconstruction of the Somalia Drive though they would not immediately do the four lanes at once. The existing two lanes will be reconstructed first after which the other two will be done. In other words, Somalia Drive residents would have quality road than what exists now.

Informed sources have said that the Kesseley Boulevard project has already undergone engineering studies and work would be done before the President’s 2nd term is over. There would be a US$17M bridge over the Mesurado River to 12th Street Sinkor. As it seems, the processes of modern infrastructures have begun. Although the public is divided in opinions concerning Public Works Minister Kofi Woods, he still practically remains a leading generational leader. While some are condemning him, others are commending him. What can we say to that?

The scope of Public Works is large and resources are always limited. No Minister has, up to date, been able to satisfy stakeholders. For what the situation represents today, we can further say it is easy to destroy; but to rebuild is hard and challenging. We have destroyed. We therefore need to be patient as reconstruction is being done according to available resources. “We are the architects of our current situation,” says Martin Bing. Nevertheless, it is demanding that Government pumps huge money into Public Works. No one can give what he does not have.

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