The Informer (Monrovia)

3 January 2014

Liberia: SSF Entrepreneurs - Retrospecting 2013 and Prospecting 2014

The year 2013 has witnessed SSF Entrepreneurs scores huge success stories as an impactful road construction company in post war Liberia. SSF Entrepreneurs, Inc. did not only end 2013 with enviable achievements, but also plans on enhancing existing partnership with the Government and People of Liberia to rebuild Liberia's critical road infrastructure in the new year. This special feature will retrospect on key achievements for SSF during the year 2013 and also looks at the prospects that lay ahead for the brand New Year, 2014.

SSF's expertise was critical to the Company's successful partnership with major international donor organizations that were involved with the resettlement of Liberians affected by the civil war. They included organizations like the European Union (EU), African Development Bank (AfDB) and United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR), United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and other major leading donors.

SSF's partnership with the Government of Liberia which began in 2009 has now blossomed to the extent that the Company is recognized as a major contributor to the successes of the Government road infrastructure agenda. SSF has lived up to its motto that reads "Road Is Life".

Since its inception in 2004, SSF has distinguished itself as one of the premier civil works companies in Liberia, marching inexorably forward in its quest to become Liberia's Roads Contractor of Choice.

The company is engaged in the construction and maintenance of roads as well as the development of land infrastructure related to civil engineering. Potential areas of new business include public sector building infrastructure, open cast mining, water supply projects, and sewerage and storm water removal projects

Its operations are represented at locations throughout Liberia. SSF staff, proudly bearing the distinctive blue company logo, can be seen toiling away in every corner of the country with sub-divisional offices in Maryland, Lofa, Nimba and Grand Cape Mount Counties.

2013 HIGHLIGHTS

As one of only three companies in the country with demonstrable capacity to deliver quality asphalt works, SSF has, in a relatively short period, excellent understanding of asphalt based work, including upgrade from laterite to asphalt and maintenance of asphalt roads.

The Year 2013 witnessed the Company's splendid performance in delivering the Government of Liberia's urban renewal action plans. These included asphalt overlay works the Capitol Bye up to the Headquarters of the Liberia National Police, ELWA Junction to SD Cooper Junction and the stretch of road between Vamoma House and Larkpazee intersection, full rehabilitation of the GSA Road and Parker Paint-Neezoe Roads in Paynesville, and ongoing full upgrade to asphalt works on Jamaica, AB Tolbert, Duport and Soul Clinic and Marshall roads.

The Year 2013 also witnessed SSF completing and delivering fully rehabilitated Gee River to Harper corridor in River Gee and Maryland Counties, the Kolahun to Vahun to Bomaru corridor in Lofa County. SSF is currently involved with full rehabilitation of the Karweaken to Barclayville corridor in Maryland and Grand Kru Counties.

SSF continues to demonstrate its capacity to intervene on very challenging road corridors and delivering results within agreed scope of time. The Year 2013 was no different. The Company's intervention on the 74 km Kolahun to Vahun to Bomaru road, a previously extremely impossible road on which vehicles and motorcyclists struggled to venture to ply, is now pliable even with non-4x4 vehicles and has reconnected an entire District that was previously cut off from the rest of Liberia during the immediate years that followed the war and after.

The most terrible point on the road was the Kambo Hill which many described as a no-go-beyond point. (Kambo, in the Mende vernacular means "hard to climb.") Almost three into one, the hill was very steep with big rocks and terrible gutters, with awfully deep valleys on each side.

But that is history today (courtesy of expertise of SSF Entrepreneurs) and the region that was temporarily aligned with Sierra Leone for many years has been reconnected to Liberia. Liberians in that part of the country used the Sierra Leonean currency till this redemption by the Liberian Government through SSF's reconstruction works.

Challenges:

One of the Company's biggest challenges for the year 2013, rolling into 2014, is the issue of contractual obligation with the Government being settled. Budgetary constraints on Government continue to have adverse impact on settling contractors like SSF, thereby affecting the Company's pre-financing operations of its projects.

The situation is causing default with commercial banks' loan, as interests accrued.

The Company continues to however stress that the delays in percentage payment which leads to accumulated interest eats into its profits and may likely affect its performance capacity in the coming year. Unlike some of its international competitor construction firms which are backed by their respective national governments, the Liberian-grown SSF has no such backing but has been into collaterals in obtaining these loans as well as taking risks.

The second major challenge is the completion of the Karweaken-Barclayville Road, which will be critical in view of the celebration of the 167th Independence Day celebrations this year in Barclayville and Greenville.

2014 Prospects

With its eyes on achieving maximum results for the next construction period, SSF remains determined to work day and night in implementing the Government's infrastructural program. Key in its plans are the following:

· Completing the Duport Road-Soul Clinic Project

· Completing the AB Tolbert Road Project

· Completing the Jamaica Road Project

· Completing the Sinkor streets and avenue

· Turning over the Kolahun to Vahun to Bomaru Road

· To achieve at least 75% completion of the Marshall Road

Company's Ownership: The Company's ownership is halved between a Liberian and a Lebanese, thereby clearly explaining why SSF remains committed to empowering Liberians and giving back to the country. It is 50% owned by a Liberian while the remaining 50% is owned by Mr. Shawki S. Fawaz, who is married to a Liberia.

Giving Back: SSF's roads construction and roads rehab portfolio does contain the more stringent social and environmental protections required for such cooperation, evidenced by its give-back-to-the-community attitude that has gone beyond the direct communities in which it has been doing road works over the years.

For instance, victims of flood in the GSA Road a year ago still recall being proud beneficiaries of SSF's response to its corporate responsibility. Newspapers and radio stations run stories of SSF's food and clothing items donation to a group of dying people in need at the time.

Prioritizing Liberian Employment:

As a people-driven firm dedicated to empowering Liberians, SSF has over 97% of its employment to be Liberians who are permanent employees and not just mere contractors. Its administrative structure is Liberian-dominated including the General Manager, the Accountant, the Human Resource Director, and the Book Keeper, among others. All of these staffs are well taken care of as the company observes the country's labor laws.

Of course, as a professional company that ascribes to professionalism, it has got to have a few expatriates as any other professional company would. This, thus, brings the less than 2% of non-Liberians at the company to be expatriates that are contributing to building the capacities of the local staffs, the remaining 1% are family members being trained to take over from Mr. Fawaz.

And the benefits (of having such few professional expatriates) are enormous: the few expatriates have been building the capacities of the locals, especially in the technical areas as required in the field of construction, enabling the training of Liberian brothers and sisters are to use construction machines.

For instance, SSF being one of three companies with asphalt capacity, has been transferring technical know-how skills to Liberians on asphalt pavement as the country intends to grow from gravel road to a network of asphalt (coal-tar) road throughout the country. Maintenance of these road projects is what will matter in the next few years.

Similarly, chain of Liberian companies is testimonies of SSF's local empowerment. To demonstrate SSF's commitment to empowering local Liberian companies and, or construction companies, the Company has sub-constructed several Liberian contractors on its projects.

The likes of Aaron Minneh Group, Joseph Wart Group, and Wendell Engineering, along with Matthew George Group (the Marshall Road project), the Richard Biao Group and Dauda M. Conte Company (currently doing the Barclayville to Kanweaken Road) while Asnu Kiaw Group, Kezulu Gourp and Gabriel Sarki Group of Companies have been empowered by SSF for the Vahum Road in Lofa County, among others.

The Man Behind SSF Entrepreneurs

Mr. Shawki Fawaz is the Managing Director/CEO of SSF Entrepreneur, Inc. He gained his experience in the world of business particularly in Liberia, spanning for more than 30 years, crisscrossing forestry and construction sectors of the economy.

Though, a Lebanese by birth, Mr. Fawaz has spent his entire adult life in Liberia since his arrival in the 70's as a teenager. A product of the University of Liberia, the SSF CEO rose to the position of operations manager and managing director respectively at two logging companies that had operated in Grand Gedeh, Lofa and Sinoe Counties, positions that afforded him the opportunity to have direct oversight responsibility of the construction and maintenance of feeder roads within the concession areas, and other major roads to ensure unhindered movement of trucks that were transporting timbers from the forest to the port of shipment.

The closure of logging operations in 1989 due to the outbreak of 14 years of devastating war which rendered the country to nothingness did not deter the desire of this astute business man, in remaining engaged with infrastructural development initiatives.

Hence, during the crisis, Mr. Fawaz focused on the maintenance of roads for relief organizations, especially for UNHCR to move supplies to internally displaced persons who were camped across Liberia, and as well as returning refugees. His recognition of the importance of road was not only for the livelihood of the displaced people, but the economic development of the country.

His ambition to seeing that the country's road infrastructures were being developed left him determinedly with the option of venturing into the establishment of SSF in 2004--a Liberian construction company legally registered with the government. With his dream being fulfilled by establishing the company, in his wisdom, the SSF CEO saw the need to bring on board as partners, Mr. Anwar Ezedine who is Chairman of the Board of Directors of SSF is Fawaz's cousin, married to a Liberia..

For the Year 2014, Mr. Fawaz says he is looking forward to continuing his partnership with the Government of Liberia, through the Ministry of Public Works and says he is 100% committed to supporting the current leadership of the Ministry to achieve its deliverables under the Agenda for Transformation.

Table of SFF/ West Africa Construction 2012-2013 Projects

Donor/ Project Status

1. MPW/Kolahun-Vahun Road Rehabilitation... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... Completed

2. MPW/Asphalt Overlaying of Crown Hill to Old Health Ministry, Old Labor Ministry-Foreign Ministry, Vamoma House-Airfield Junction, Old Health Ministry to Old Labor Ministry... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... Completed

3. MPW/Rehabilitations of Sinkor's Streets , Matadi Road, SD Cooper Junction and ELWA Road junction (1.6 Km)... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... Completed

4. MPW/Rehab of Cheeseman Ave & Airfield Shortcut (3.25 km)... Completed

5. ADB/Maintenance of Fish Town-Harper Rd, Lot 1 (73Km)... ... ... Completed

6. MPW/Maintenance of Voinjama-Mendikorma Rd (80.3km)... ... .80% Complete

7. RIA/Asphalt Pavement & Repair of RIA Runway... ... ... ... ... ... ... ...50% Complete

8. MPW/Rehabilitation of Vahun-Bormaru Road (14Km)... ... ... ... ... Completed

9. MPW/Asphalt pavement of Jamaica Road (1.22 km)... ... ... ... ... ... ..80% Complete

10. MPW/Rehabilitation of Karweaken-Barclayville Road (86km)... .65% Complete

11. MPW/ Pavement: AB Tolbert-Duport Rd & Weaver Str (6.47km) 65% Complete

12. MPW/Asphalt Pavement: Duport Rd-Parker Paint Junct (4.21km) 80% Complete

13. Maritime/Asphalt Pavement of Marshall Road(21km)... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... .50% Complete

14. SIDA/Swedish Feeder Road Project (Lofa County)... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... .Ongoing

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