11 January 2013

Liberia: 'Stop Them or Be Held' - Woods Orders Lofa Re Over Poor Road Construction

Public Works Minister Samuel Kofi Woods has ordered Lofa County's Resident Engineer Robert Gibson to immediately halt any road or bridge construction that does not meet the specifications of the Ministry, warning that the days of building substandard infrastructure in the country are over.

"If they come here to build substandard roads and bridges, stop them; we will no longer accept poor quality roads and log bridges anywhere in the country," Woods stated in Salayea recently, when he and Vice President Joseph Nyumah Boakai were in route to launch the pavement of Voinjama city's streets.

Woods sounded the caveat after citizens of Salayea disclosed that some logging companies were mowing down their forest and extracting resources without building durable roads. They claimed that some of these companies are similar to the past ones that constructed log bridges and road only for the taking out of resources--roads and bridges they said were quite short-lasting and not for the enduring benefits of the communities.

"Yes, we want roads and bridges, but we don't want the kind of roads the old logging companies built in this county before the war, before this government came to power," Salayea acting district commissioner noted angrily."

The citizens said some of the smaller logging companies, reportedly operating under controversial Private Use Permits scheme, were operating with no regards for the districts and citizens, and were doing things that pleased them only.

"They [logging companies] are coming back again building substandard roads and bridges; we don't want that here again, we will stop them and chase them out of here," the citizens, in separate statements, told Woods and Boakai.

The Commissioner claimed that in some instance, companies were operating unknown to them, and were building roads without the knowledge of the district's authorities.

In response, Woods told the people that a halt would be put to any of such development in any part of the country, especially when it has to do with roads and bridges, before ordering his Chief second-in-command of the county to immediately put a stop to any such poor work.

"There should be no compromise with road projects," Woods stated both in Salayea Town and later in Voinjama, moments just before the groundbreaking for the pavement of the city's streets. "If the culverts is not good or positioned properly, dig it out; if you see the project not going fine, stop it; if they build log bridges, stop them," Woods instructed Gibson, warning that he would be held liable for any avoidable fault. "You should be on their backs; you have to check them all the time."

Still in Salayea, Minister Woods told the somewhat angry people that if anyone or company goes in the district to construct roads without the county's resident engineer playing his legitimate role as Public Works Minister, he (engineer) will be held accountable.

Best Resident Engineer

Woods however told the people of Salayea, and everywhere he visited in Lofa, that Gibson was one of the best young engineers in the country. "He is your own son and he is one of the best we can boast of in this country," the Minister went on. "I trust him, he will stop any ugly work; he has done it several times and the news has reached me; he has done it to UNMIL as well."

Besides the minister's recognition, Gibson received plaudits in every part of the county where road work, under the auspices of the Ministry and other Partners, have taken place. Chiefs, youth and elders said he had cooperated with and listened to them to foster infrastructure development in the county.

"He is hardworking and respectful," Kolahun District Commissioner Morris Tamba stated.

"He is the best Resident Engineer we've got...nobody should come build road here without his approval....Whatever decision he takes is what we will stand by, and that's why we will hold him responsible for any bad work if he fails to exercise his authority," Woods asserted.

Woods noted that some investing companies were building roads in parts of the country without the involvement of the Ministry because citizens had signed social agreements, some bordering on road construction, without the involvement of the Ministry of Public Works.

In these instances, when the roads are not built properly, they blame the Ministry for not building good roads.

He told the people of Salayea and Lofa in general not to follow such path. "When you sign social contracts with investors, let the Resident Engineer know. He has to be involved when it comes to roads; you must not sign agreement before you call him in, he should be part of it to determine the right specifications."

Woods assured the people of Lofa that the government of President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf remains committed to building the country and more roads will be built and opened in the county as funding become available.

"It is a big challenge; everybody wants something done in their districts and counties," Boakai said of the rebuilding of Liberia, and in response of the people's call for the main road (Gbarnga-Voinjama) to be revamped.

He caused a loud applause when he broke news that government was now doing a feasibility study for the pavement of the Gbarnga-Mendikorma highway. "We know that Lofa County, when we build this road, the hunger will finish--it's the major challenge we now have."

Calling for the people's patience, Boakai also requested their continued cooperation in building the country, enticing them to eschew violence and settle their grievances through the rightful authorities.

"Lofa," he declared, "will continue to be Liberia's bread basket, and with good roads it will even be better."

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