FrontPageAfrica (Monrovia)

5 June 2014

Liberia: Lingering Road Woes - Who's Responsible for 'Nightmare' in Liberia?

Photo: FrontPage Africa
Ministry of Public Works Minister Madame Antoinette Weeks

Beginning 2008 to 2012, the Ministry of Public Works received applauses from the Liberian public on the rapid construction of roads across the country some of which includes the Caldwell Road, the Samuel K. Doe Boulevard, the Jamaica Road, the Buchanan-Monrovia highway and several other projects.

In several counties, feeder roads had been undergoing rapid rehabilitation with donors, including the World Bank, International Monetary Fund and the Government of Liberia along with others providing massive support to the infrastructural reconstruction drive of Liberia but by 2013, the pace of road construction suddenly changed with several projects coming to a standstill.

The Ministry of Public Works overseeing the infrastructural development aspect of the country experienced a change in leadership with Samuel K. Woods resigning his position as he is yet to state the primary reasons for quitting the post with several projects being implemented by the Ministry under his watch.

'Do the honorable thing and resign'

Following Mr. Woods' departure, the Public Works Ministry has come under the scrutiny for the slow pace in project implementation and delays in the commencement of other projects, prompting public outcries and donor expression of frustration on the inability of the Ministry to conclude contracts for the reconstruction of the Somalia Drive Road and continuation works on other roads.

In the wake of ongoing roads nightmare facing the country, especially during this rainy season, pressure has been mounting on the current Minister of Public Works, Antoinette Weeks, who some segments of the public believe is incompetent to handle the huge task at the Ministry of Public works. On Monday protesters gathered at the Ministry calling for her resignation, a day before she faced the Senate to answer queries regarding the status of road projects.

Minister Weeks was preparing to meet the House of Representatives when the Senate cited her to appear. On Tuesday she turned out at the Capitol to provide explanations to the lawmakers ahead of another hectic Thursday where she is expected to reappear before the Senate. Unless the lower house rearranges her schedule, the minister is expected to be lured in for another round of questioning.

Some Senators, including Geraldine Doe Sherriff (Montserrado County, CDC), H. Dan Morias (CDC, Maryland County) were furious with Minister Weeks performance going as far as to ask the Minister to resign if the task ahead of her is difficult to handle.

"Everything you ask the Minister, she is shifting blame, so it means the task ahead is so hard for her. I think she must do the honorable thing, to resign", Senator Sheriff ranted.

Weeks' Defense inherited nightmare

During her appearance Tuesday, Weeks defended her statement that she inherited a complex ministry and as such to solve the problem, would require a lot. Minister Weeks contends that she inherited a ministry with US$83 million debts for contractors; something she said has negatively impacted the relationship of her ministry with contractors. The minister said out of the $34 Million United States dollars submitted to the Finance Ministry for payment, only $14 million has been paid.

The Public Works Minister's comments was in response to concerns raised by Senators Peter Coleman (Congress for Democratic Change, Grand Kru) and Joseph Nagbe (Sinoe, Alliance for Peace and Democracy) who expressed fear that this year's July 26 independence might not be celebrated in Sinoe County due to the bad road conditions in the southeast.

Minister Weeks told the senate that her administration inherited what she described as a nightmare. Said Weeks "The issues senator Coleman raised is a nightmare that we have inherited and we need to find a way to deal with it. One of the nightmares Senator Coleman alluded to is how we address the issue of the contractors."

Added Weeks: "These are some of the things that we have to change and if we are to change them, the change will not come easy because the part of the change is we will have to bring changes to capacity. We cannot leave the contractors with consultancy on their own to work because if you sign a contract with someone, human nature is such, and don't give them the kind of supervision needed they will give you what you didn't want".

In order to address the "Nightmare", Weeks said field engineers have to have a level of competence. "The reality is that the capacity for field engineers is sub-standard and some of the change we will be making will be people change and that is the support we will want from you Senators."

Woods' legacy on the line

Week's inherited nightmare claims took a swipe at the legacy of her predecessor, Samuel K. Woods, who was applauded by Liberians for physically going on the field and inspecting road construction projects in a bid to fast-track ongoing work. Woods in April moved to dispel suggestions that his administration obligated the government contracts that were not budgeted.

"Some have averred that one of the reasons why the Government is not meeting budgetary targets is because the government had been overcommitted financially by some institutions, including the Ministry of Public works during my tenure ... This account of events is a misrepresentation of my stewardship of the Ministry that I cannot allow it to go unaddressed", the former Minister stated.

Said Woods: "All these roads people are talking about, you need certificates of completion, meaning if a man had 100% road to complete in his contract, before they get paid, they must reach certain completion benchmarks before they get paid, contrary to what people are saying that someone took one year and gave US$80 million dollars worth of contract to people, what for God's sake. Check the record, nobody sat down in the office and just started signing contracts worth US$80 million. There were even contracts brought from 2009".

Woods indicated that during his administration all contracts met the required legal processes, including notifications from the Public Procurement and Concession Commission (PPCC), signatures of the Ministries of Finance and Justice.

"During my tenure as Minister of Public Works, all Government contracts above the US$250,000 threshold were signed by the appropriate authorities at the Ministries of Finance and Justice prior to being submitted to the MOF for payments. This is in keeping with the PPCC regulation number three, as well as provisions of the PFM and PPCC Acts. The records are there for all to see."

Weeks' shifting of the blame on the slow pace of ongoing road projects on Woods versus Woods defense of his records is already creating a public debate on who is actually at fault in the prevailing road woes facing the country.

Japan Frustration over Somalia Drive Road

Talk radio has been buzzing with the discussion compounded by a leaked to the public in which a Japanese official, Ms. Maki Okusa practically begged the Minister of Public Works to meet an Engineer in order to finalize discussions for consummating the contract for the construction of the Somalia Drive.

The letter read in possession of FrontPageAfrica pointed out how the Japanese official took Minister Weeks to task over the slow pace of the Somalia Drive Road project is crucial to Liberia, appealing to the Minister to attend a meeting with a visiting Engineer.

The communication reads:

Dear Minister,

Thank you very much indeed for your reply.

Even though you will be out of town next week, the Consultant is planning to come to Liberia, if there is a chance, to pay a courtesy call to you and also to assess the current situation of Somalia Drive. He is arriving on Monday evening and will leave on Saturday.

I do not have your detail schedule next week, but it would be difficult for you to meet with the consultant even briefly if you are leaving town after Tuesday? He is arriving by Kenya Airways on Monday, so if you have time, he will come to your office straight from the airport.

The reason I am asking for your time to meet the consultant is, as you may know already, unless JICA verifies the Contract, we are not going to disburse the payment to the DNC, which means no construction work will start.

Unfortunately, the Consultant will not be able to come to Liberia until May. If he loses this opportunity to meet with you. The best is the consultant will meet with you even shortly, but if that would be difficult, please kindly go through the Amendments of the Contract that the Consultant has emailed you. It would be greatly appreciated if you would give any comments or hopefully your consent when the consultant contacts you by phone early next week.

Minister, my biggest concern is the further delay of this project. This is a project requested by Mdm. President. Due to the delay of RAP implementation, the project is already delayed while the expectation of the people is getting higher. We are already in March and the rainy season will be coming soon. As you know, if we miss the current dry season, we have to postpone the commencement until later this year, which causes the huge delay to the entire schedule. This will be a big disappointment for people and also for Mdm. President.

I totally understand your busy schedule and rather, appreciate very much for your attention and cooperation for this project. For our assistance by grant, Japanese consultant and contractor will be responsible and in charge of all construction based on Japanese standard. Both Katahira and DNC have enough experiences and done great jobs in other countries. Once the construction starts, you will know what I mean. But meanwhile, I need your generous cooperation to finish this administrative/paper works as soon as possible so that we can start the construction.

Unfortunately, I will be out of the country next week, but I would appreciate you very much if you could consider giving your time to go through the Amendments and meet with the Consultant next week. If you have any question or concern, please kindly let me know. I will be checking emails while I am away and will come to your office, if you want, upon my return.

Sincerely

Maki Okusa (Ms.)

Head of Office/Project Formulation Advisor

Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA), Liberia Field Office

Weeks' predecessor, Woods in April challenged Weeks to show the Liberian people what she has to offer rather than sitting in the office and making administrative decisions. Some legislators are predicting a tough time at the Capitol for Weeks Thursday with some suggesting casting a vote of no confidence in the ability of Weeks to continue as Minister of Public Works.

Since assuming office, the Ministry has been in the media for the wrong reasons ranging from dismissal, suspensions and fistfight between officials of the Ministry. President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf was one of the first to criticize Weeks insisting that she is yet to see the handy work of Weeks since she was appointed as Minister.

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