In anticipation of the upcoming dry season, the Government of Japan says it is committed to jump-starting and completing, on time, the reconstruction of the Paynesville Red Light to Freeport Highway, also known as Somalia Drive or Freeway.
According to an Executive Mansion release, a Japanese parliamentary delegation, during a courtesy call on President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf on Tuesday, August 14, confirmed that Japan has put everything in place to begin as soon as the Liberian Government gives the signal to commence the project.
Ichiro Aisawo, the head of the Japanese delegation, stressed the need for the resettlement of residents within the right of way of the road construction, under the Resettlement Action Plan to clear those who erected structures along route of the road construction.
Back in June, the Governments of Liberia and Japan signed a US$50 million agreement for the reconstruction and expansion of Somalia Drive - an important highway linking the commercial sector of Red Light, in Paynesville, to the economic sector of the Freeport of Monrovia on Bushrod Island.
Mr. Aisawo also stated that, in addition to the reconstruction of this important highway, Japan is also willing to contribute in other areas, including energy and health. He pledged his government's commitment to working with Liberia to improve public-private sector collaboration in the development of the country.
Speaking through an interpreter, Mr. Aisawo, on behalf of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, thanked President Sirleaf for the level of commitment demonstrated in rebuilding Liberia, as evidenced by what he had seen while touring Monrovia.
Responding, the Liberian President committed her government to pave the way for the commencement of the highway project. "The snail's pace in the execution of the RAP is due to the delay in the passage of the 2013-2014 National Budget," she offered, and expressed the hope of resettling residents in time for the project to commence. She renewed her mandate to Foreign Minister Augustine Ngafuan to remain engaged with relevant stakeholders in government to ensure that the project commences on schedule.
President Sirleaf expressed delight that Liberia-Japan relations have gained momentum since their resuscitation, resulting in the start of several development projects, human capital development and the donation of essential commodities. Referring to the Liberia-Japanese Friendship Maternity Center at the John F. Kennedy Medical Center, the President told the delegation of its meaningful contribution to the healthcare of women and children. She also informed the group that Japan's donation of rice has greatly helped the government's school feeding program; the seed rice multiplication program is promoting food security; and the provision of scholarships was enabling several Liberians to be trained in various disciplines in Japan.
The Liberian leader informed the parliamentary delegation that her request to Prime Minister Abe to open an Embassy near Monrovia is well on course, and is expected to take place in 2014. In addition, Japan and Liberia are equally engaged in establishing a Liberia-Japan Partnership Dialogue, with a follow-up meeting expected to take place in Monrovia next year.
President Sirleaf highlighted her personal request to Dr. Torao Tokudafor medical assistance to John F. Kennedy Hospital - a request which has yielded fruitful results with the donation of equipment and training of health personnel.
Madam Sirleaf used the opportunity to invite Japanese businesses to invest in Liberia and take advantage of the country's natural resources - a venture she believed would boost government's job creation program. "The Liberian economy has begun picking up now, at 7 percent growth rate, with a hope to hit double-digit growth rate in the coming years, which demonstrates our potential of a viable economy. But this can only be supported by a vibrant private sector in which Japanese businesses could play a role," she said, adding, "Let me also inform you that the country is now an open society and those things that promote democracy, including a favorable business climate, are all flourishing in Liberia, including a strong civil society, media and free speech."
President Sirleaf praised the work of the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA), describing the Agency as a real driving force for development. She also commended Liberia's Ambassador to Japan, Youngor Telewoda, for remaining engaged, which has greatly benefited Liberia.
Other members of the Japanese delegation included Representative Karen Makishima; the Deputy Director-General of the Bureau of Middle East and African Affairs, Mr. Masaru Wantanaba; and officials of the JICA-Liberia office.
While in Liberia, the delegation also held talks with Vice President Joseph N. Boakai and the leadership of the 53rd National Legislature, and inspected the current state of Somalia Drive which, upon completion, is expected to be renamed the Liberia-Japanese Friendship Highway.