opinionBy Joe Lackay Freeman
On August 13, 2012, the Liberia Swedish Feeder Road Project dedicated and turned over about 200km of feeder roads in Bong and Lofa Counties.
At that occasion, authorities of the Liberia-Swedish Feeder Road Project based at the Ministry of Public Works promised to extend its feeder road project in Nimba County.
Could this be another empty promise, I asked as I record the minute, second and hour the promise was made in my note book.
When the dedication ceremonies were over, I asked the Assistant Minister for Planning and Programming at the Public Works on how soon do the people of Nimba expect to see yellow machines operating in their villages as promised.
The well experienced Assistant Minister's response to me was, in a couple of months. Can you be definite? No. Why? Because road construction entails a whole lot of planning and arrangements, the Assistant Minister said.
With that response, I took my recorder and camera back into my bag and boarded a motorcycle to Gbarnga. Riding on a newly constructed feeder road from Gbonota to Phebe, I asked the rider of the motorcycle who was also present when the feeder road expansion pronouncement to Nimba was made. Do you think these people will really fulfill their promise? The speeding pen-pen rider said, don't be like doubting Thomas, from what I see SIDA doing in Bong and Lofa Counties, I am certainly sure they will reach in your County (Nimba).
The Pen-Pen rider went on to say that the head of the Public Works Ministry, Kofi Woods is a credible man; thus he (Pen-pen rider) was convinced that the people of Nimba County would shortly benefit from the Liberia-Swedish Feeder Road Projects as has been promised. How he (pen-pen rider) knew that I was from Nimba County, it's up to him. Perhaps, my English sounded too Gionish.
With that, I kept quiet and chanted praises on the Liberia-Swedish Feeder Road projects initiative in Liberia, as the impact could not be overemphasized.
Three months after the dedication ceremony in Piata, Bong County, I received a called from a journalist colleague of mine. "Have you made any follow up with the Liberia-Swedish Feeder Road Project since the dedication ceremony in Piata"? My colleague asked? My response to him was no. "Then you need to do so now, because there are rumors that Public Works is preparing for groundbreaking ceremony in Nimba County for the construction of farm to market road", my colleague added.
With that tip off, I immediately proceeded to the headquarters of the Ministry of Public Works. For me, it was not about road construction in the entire Liberia, but what matter most was Nimba County because there is nowhere like home. As I engaged the Ministry's entrance through its main gate, my ear stood straight like rabbit waiting to take advantage of little gossip concerning my visit. Sure indeed and as tradition demands, drivers and securities including some key staffers who were out for launch were found discussing road matters including the Nimba County's road extension initiative.
I wasted no time, but quickly asked one of them to take me to the offices of the Minister, Kofi Woods. Of course, Ministers are the main people we investigators like to see. But in this case, the story was different. The very intelligent security officers politely took me to the offices of the Deputy Minister for Rural Development, Hon. Christian Herbert. "It's here you can get the information you want", the officer said while turning his back on me.
Subsequently, I asked the Minister about rumors concerning the groundbreaking ceremony of feeder roads construction in Nimba, the political county. "The Minister response to me was, "yes, the Swedish International Development Agency has made some commitment in that direction and that early next month, we will be breaking ground for the road project in Nimba".
But the Minister was quick to refer me to the Assistant Minister for Planning and Programming, Sam Nagbe for details on the project. "What kind of Ministry is this, so organized and unique in their dealings with people, no wonder why the Liberia Media Center described them as the most "fantastic organization and better organized and structured than most of the other agencies", I droned while being led to the Assistant Minister's office.
While in the Assistant Minister Office, I was given a piece of document. Included in that piece of document, was the exact information I wanted. Having put smiles on the faces of the people of Bong and Lofa Counties through its feeder road construction initiative, the Liberia-Swedish Feeder Road Project under the sponsorship of the government of Sweden is now preparing for the ground breaking ceremony of 106.57km of farm to market road in six key towns in Nimba County.
According to the document, towns to benefit from the road construction or rehabilitation are, Yarsonnah-Payee Road, Nengbein-Yelekoryee connecting Tindink Menyan, Suakarzue-Yargoupa connecting Flown Road, Zorgowee-Dulay Road, Zuluyee-Yehbo Road and Sanniquillie towards Varnyapa Road.
The road project is part of government of Liberia Poverty Reduction Strategy (PRS) initiative and its outcome will contribute immensely to food production and movement of local produce to urban and local markets. Among other things, the road project is part of the MPW deliverables in the PRS that obligates the Ministry to rehabilitate and construct 580 kilometers of feeder roads throughout the 15 political subdivision of the country.
Strategically, the roads and bridges work will seek to ensure that all roads are pliable all year round. "We have the requisite capacity program for the maintenance of these roads", Assistant Minister, Sam Nagbe said.
According to the document, the road work will include upgrading of the laterite surface, improvement of the drainage system, construction of bridges and installations of requisite signages along the road as well as community involvement and participation in the construction works. This categorically reminds me of the president's job creation scheme across the country that seeks to draw community dwellers into full participation in projects in their areas so as to take ownership.
As an investigative individual, I wanted to go further by hearing from the Minister proper, Kofi Woods. On the telephone, I asked the hard working Minister about his impression on this kind of decentralized road work. "Liberia is not only Monrovia, so our plan is to positively impact the movement of our people, goods and services in the community thereby improving access to basic services including health and education", the outspoken Minister said.
The overall cost of the project according to the document is put at US$ 3,241,300.19. This amount is being generated through the tax payers' of Sweden. That is why I never get tire of celebrating the tax payers of Sweden for their humanitarian contribution to the rebuilding process of our war ravaged country.
Such contribution will be remembered and there is no you say I say about it as the investment is physical and its impact is long felt. With the improvement in road network across the country, road users are now reporting significant reduction in transportation cost. "Travel time has reduced on this road, before we used to pay 500 to L$600 per person to Gbonota or L$3,000.00 to Phebe Junction or Totota, now we are paying less than that", a business woman, Garmai Flomo said.
When I recently visited Piata Community, which according to record, has been cut off from the rest of Bong County from vehicular movement for over 30 years before the intervention of SIDA, I noticed the influx of smaller vehicles including taxi and private cars. Interestingly, some smaller cars were found overtaking our vehicle as if they were on a competition for a prize. Farm produce including fruits and roots were are in abundance, and the people were chasing in on them, with buyers coming from as far as the county's capital. "That's what good road does, a colleagues travelling with me said.
These interventions are not only seen physical road work. According to available document, for the past 3 years, SIDA projects have provided job opportunity for more than 7 thousands residents in both Bong and Lofa Counties. Of the 7 thousands job opportunity, the document said, 720 women benefited from either short term or long term job creation scheme.
From this number of job opportunities, one can now imagine that the Liberia Swedish Feeder Road Project before 2014 would positively impact the lives of over 1 million Liberians giving the investment it has made so far on the lives of rural dwellers in just 3 years time.
"The goal of SIDA project is to contribute to the poverty reduction strategy of Liberia by ensuring sustainable road access in communities in Lofa, Bong and Nimba Counties that will enhance livelihood potentials primarily in the agriculture sector", SIDA Team Leader, Belal Hussain said.
It is my understanding that, though SIDA is investing in road network in Liberia, but its contribution to the Liberia's recovery process started some six years ago when it donated about US$1.5 million to the TRC's hearing process. Additionally, this humanitarian group is helping to build the capacity of Liberia through transfer of skills in various areas of discipline including engineering and computer science.
Early this year, I was invited to cover a program marking the graduation ceremony of over 15 rural development staff of the Ministry of Public Works from computer training program organized by SIDA in collaboration with the Bangladesh Signal Contingent 8 Sector B of the United Nations Mission in Liberia (UNMIL) station in Gbarnga Bong County.
With this and I as one of my colleague puts it, unquestionably, Liberia is moving towards a middle income country level by 2030, and the Swedish Government, through SIDA, is generously contributing to that process by investing in road network in Lofa, Bong and Nimba counties.