The Ministry of Information, Cultural Affairs and Tourism adopts a routine it calls regular press briefings at its head office on Capitol Hill; forums that allow public functionaries to face the media and the public and report on their achievements as well as their position on topical issues and controversies that relate to their assigned ministries and agencies. When the country’s Works minister yesterday had ended his term of “press briefing,” Information Minister Lewis Brown confessed that the latest session was, indeed, not a “press briefing” but an “exhaustive presentation”--an acknowledgement of the Woods’ conversance and articulacy of Liberia’s infrastructure building regime. The Analyst was present and listened to the Public Works Minister’s “exhaustive presentation”.
Just barely a day after he had lighted up the C. Cecil Dennis, Jr. Auditorium of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs presidential complex where he mesmerized his quests in both odd and good governance practices, Public Works Minister Samuel Kofi Woods moved westward of Capitol Hill at the Ministry of Information to give detailed account of his stewardship. The “Press Briefing”, as Information Minister Lewis Brown who organized the forum admitted, turned into an “exhaustive presentation”, as Woods was once again at his best in term of the oratory prowess and histrionics he has brought to the Liberian public service and for which he is now becoming a media sensation.
Though criticisms may abound for every sector of the Liberia governance system, public infrastructure particularly roads, bridges and public buildings have consistently drawn more concerns since they have direct link to the socioeconomic survivability of every citizen. With the civil conflict worsening already appalling situation, national infrastructure has appealed to the conscience of the political administration which has committed a lion’s share of the country’s resource to improving the situation.
Meanwhile the clamor for attention and intervention amongst several citizens and communities who desire roads, bridges, hand pumps and other social services constitutes an unabated headache for the Ministry of Public Works established by an Act of the National Legislature 1928 to oversee this infrastructure sector, the heartstring of the population.
When Samuel Kofi Woods took the stand yesterday, the mere appearance not only provoked expectations of curious listeners as to what exactly the concrete things the Ministry has done during his nearly four years of leadership at the Ministry but also what plans are afoot and what communities are likely to benefit. Nearly every citizen listened to hear how prioritized his community is on the Ministry’s list.
Public Works Minister Woods who was rated by the Liberia Media Center in its independent progress report of Government’s 150-Action Plan as one of few best-performing ministers came to the Ministry under a hail of controversy, since he comes from the Liberal Science domain of the academia. His performance has made all that an irony.
But taking over in 2009, the Ministry’s progress has clouded and overshadowed by poor performance and corruption amid audit reports from the GAC and visible indicators like the Jallah Town road fiasco.
Recasting the Ministry’s image, Woods non-technical background turned out to be positive, as the Ministry is always on the list of eulogies of President Sirleaf.
Achievements: 2009 - 2011
Reporting on the first half of his administration, Samuel Kofi Woods listed major road works which he said were completed between 2009 and 20122. These include the asphalt paved roads such as the more than 25 kilometers of the road link to Buchanan City and the final 57 kilometers under construction. He also Government has signed contract for work to commence on the 1st phase of Red Light – Gbarnga - Ganta to the Guinea Border and the full rehabilitation of the ELWA to RIA road.
During the period, he also said, feasibility studies and discussions commenced and these will lead to the pavement of Ganta-Yekepa high way (Accelor Mattal); Zwedru – Greenville highway (Putu Mining); Kakata – Bong Mines road (China Union); and Gbarnga to Mandekorma highway (Kuwait funds/GoL.
Reporting on secondary roads constructed between 2009 and 2011, Woods named several laterite roads constructed. The included:Full rehabilitation of Gbartala – Fonotoli road; maintenance of the Brewerville – Compasu Junction; Rehabilitation of the Bahn – Karnplay; full rehabilitation of the Kolahun Junction – Vahun road (ongoing); full rehabilitation of the Phebe Junction to Gbonota road; and full rehabilitation of the Totota – Piata road.
On Neighborhood roads, he said several roads were asphalt paved and they included Parker Paint-Neezo road; GSA-Rehab road; Rehab-Duport road; Logan town-Mombo town road; West point road; Gobarchov market road; and over 20 miles of Monrovia city streets.
The Public Works Minister also reported achievements public building construction. He named some of the buildings as Presidential Palace in Voinjama; Community Colleges, in Sanniquellie, Buchanan and Voinjama; Technical College in Sinje; Modern Ministry of Health Complex in Monrovia; Ministry of Public Works facilities in Voinjama; Rehabilitation of the Executive and Centennial Pavilions in Monrovia; JF Doe Hospital in Tappital; University of Liberia Fendell campus, and technical assessment on the EJ Roye and Defence Ministry buildings.
Plans under 2012 - 2013
Minister Woods has unveiled an ambitious infrastructure building and other works plan to be executed between 2012 and 2013.
The plan includes a horde of urban and rural works, with nearly every county a potential beneficiary. He announced Government’s core projects as zoning, rehabilitation of MVTC and the EJ Roye Building, maintenance of the Gabriel Tucker Bridge and the Hotel Africa complex amongst others.
Also outstanding projects of the plan also include several feasibility studies of major rural highways such as the Brewerville-Bopolu, Clay-Tubmanburg, Pleebo-Barclay, Yappah Town-Cestos, Greenville Barclayville, Sanniquille-Loguatuo, Madina-Robertsport, amongst others.
Others include Ganta-Harper, Gbarga-Ganta-Guinea, Zwedru-Nyanfor Town-Greenville, Monrovia-Bo Waterside.
Minister Woods also reported that emergency bridges and road works ongoing under the 2012-2012 plan include George Bush bridges in Montserrado County; Rehab Road; Kolahun-Vahun Road, Lofa; Zorgowee Bridge, Nimba; Barclaville-Greenville; Bahn-Lorplay Bridge; Suaken-Glogaken, Maryland.
The Ministry’s Challenges
The Public Works Minister did not leave the impression that all is rosy for him and his team. He said while the Ministry has got enormous opportunities, there were formidable challenges facing the administrations. The list of the challenges includes unpredictable weather/Global climatic change; delay in processing of payment for works activities poses a problem on timely delivery of the project; budgetary complications regarding the nature of Public Works intervention; phased payments pressures contractors; Government’s cash base budget approach; timing of passage of budgets, as well as limited technical capacity for both MPW workers and private contractors.
Reforms at Public Works
Woods however said his administration has embarked a series of reform activities to increase the proficiency of staff and improve performance.
Amongst other things, he said, a Monitoring and Evaluation team is set up by the MPW to track coordinating issues and monitor deliverables, ensures that activities were aligned toward the achievement of the PRS Pillar IV mandates.
“An Aid Coordination Division that continues to play key role in quality assurance of infrastructure works as well as supporting the Ministry with coordination of support and actions being delivered by international partners intervening in the infrastructure and basic services sector,” the Minister further said.
According to him, accountability and transparency remain an utmost priority for the Ministry, especially in forging excellent collaboration and partnership with the General Auditing Commission (GAC), in implementing the various recommendations contained in the GAC’s HIPC audit of the Ministry during the 2009/2010 reporting period.
“These steps included development of a financial control manual and a robust Internal Audit Division at the MPW,” he said.