Liberia: Three Years Into the Lofa Road Project - No Significant Progress

Monrovia — On December 21, 2017, George Weah, a presidential hopeful of the opposition going for runoff election at the time, was seen with the incumbent President, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, breaking ground for the 81-kilometer from Gbarnga to Salayea. The ceremony, which occurred few days to the run-off election, to many was a confirmation that Madam Sirleaf had picked Mr. Weah as the man to continue her legacy.

The construction of the Gbarnga to Salayea road had been lingering throughout the regime of Madam Sirleaf. It was a constant plead from the people of Lofa County to the regime at the time. The ground-breaking ceremony finally brought a sigh of relief to the people of Lofa. But three years on, progress on the road is very insignificant to boast about.

The Project

The project commenced officially in January 2018 and had an expected completion date of 2021.

President Weah visited the project shortly after taking office and promised the people of Lofa that his government will work hard to ensure that the road project is completed on time.

The project is part of the larger West Africa infrastructure connectivity program. Under this initiative, each country in West Africa is to construct serviceable road networks within its borders. With the completion of these road networks, it is expected that regional trade will increase and there will be free and easy movement of people and goods across West Africa.

At the completion of the program, one will be able to drive from Nigeria to Senegal on road networks that are of international standards. Most countries in West Africa have made great strides in completing their portions of their road networks. Sierra Leone has significantly completed large sections of its road network that allows one to drive from Conakry to Liberia across Sierra Leone on a well-maintained toll-road. One can also currently easily drive from Liberia all the way through Ivory Coast to Ghana.

The completion of Gbarnga to Salayea road has strong significance and agricultural implications for Liberia. Lofa County is referred to as the "bread basket" of Liberia. This means, to make great strides in developing agriculture to ensure food sustainability, road networks must be prioritized throughout the country and not just in the southeastern region of Liberia as currently being observed.

Project Being Delayed

The US$40 million project which is being implemented by CHICO was expected to be nearing completion by now. Unfortunately, this is far from reality.

This is because the Liberian government has failed to pay its financial obligation for the implementation of the project through the Ministry of Finance, a source informed FrontPageAfrica.

This was even confirmed by the Acting Minister of Public Works, Ruth Coker Collins. She told the Senate on Monday when she was called to be queried over the delay of the project that the delay is as a result of lack of finance.

She informed plenary that the government needs US$1.3 million to resettle citizens who are in close proximity to the road and when that is done work on the road will commence.

There were originally five financiers including the Arab Bank for Economic Development (BADEA) - US$3.8 million, Kuwait Fund for Arab Economic Development (KFAED) - US$6.9 million, OPEC Fund for International Development (OFID) - US$$8.9 million, Saudi Fund for Development (SFD) - US$9.1 million and the government of Liberia (GoL) - US$11.9 million.

The above breakdown means that for each invoice submitted by the contractor, each financier will pay its portion (%) of the invoice to the contractor.

The government's failure to settle its part of the contract is seen by some in the sector as an intentional neglect of the Lofa road project, especially so when it is no secret that the government has given full priority to roads in the South Eastern region of the country and have shown very little to no desire to ensure that there is development in Bong and Lofa Counties with regards to major primary road projects.

The road could have been done and the next section should have been underway by this year if the Weah-led government had settled its financial obligation. However, due to continuous delays solely attributed to Ministry of Finance's failure to pay its portion of the loan, the project would now need at least two full dry seasons to complete the works on the project.

The financiers, FrontPageAfrica gathered, have paid most of their portions of the invoices, which has allowed the project to proceed at a very slow pace. However, the prolonging of the project is causing the overall cost to keep increasing.

The contractor has notified the government that they will begin to charge interests in keeping with the terms and conditions of their contract.

Financier Pulling Out

Due to its failure to meet up with its obligation, the Liberian government requested its co-financiers of the project to take over its portion of the loan due to financial and budgetary shortfalls.

Three of the four financiers agreed to take over the GOL's portion of the loan. However, BADEA opted not to.

BADEA, FrontPageAfrica gathered halted payments and refused to make payments on this project and all other BADEA funded projects in Liberia because of the government's failure to pay its share of this project. Also, because the Liberian government defaulted on another loan that is unrelated to the Gbarnga-Salayea road project. It is BADEA to halt payments on all projects in a country that has defaulted on any loan to that country.

Sources familiar with the development informed FrontPageAfrica that the financiers have lost trust in the country and the Ministry of Finance's ability to adequately perform on this project.

Southeast Roads on Track

In February, Acting Minister Coker hailed the completion of phase one of the Fish Town to Harper Road in the Southeast. She noted that the road is contributing significantly to the development of the region.

Phase one of the Fish Town-Harper Road project covers the 50 kilometers Harper to Karloken stretch and the 16 kilometers Harper Junction to Cavalla Customs road.

Minister Coker said the completion of the road has improved internal and cross-border trade in Ivory Coast, especially the export of palm and rubber by the Maryland Oil Palm Planation (MOPP) and the Cavalla Rubber Corporation (CRC), among others.

According to her, the Fish Town Harper Road Project is part of the 510km road linking Ganta to Harper as part of the Trans West African Highway (Lagos - Nouakchott), and it seeks to improve roads connectivity, to reduce travel time, cost reduction for vehicle operation and maintenance and socio-economic development, amongst others.

She outlined that the project corridors (50km and 16km) which took three years of construction and one-year defects monitoring, comprise a two lane 3.65m with 2.0m shoulder on both side in the rural section, two- lane 3.65 with 2.0m walkway on both sides in urban sections and three newly constructed concrete bridges and one rehabilitated Concrete bridge and eight box culverts, among others.

On September 5, 2013, the Government of Liberia signed the Protocol and Loan Agreement with the African Development Bank Group to prioritize the Fish Town Harper Road Project Phase I, as well as the maintenance of the existing laterite road from Karloken to Fish Town (80km)] in order to improve major road corridors within the Southeast.

The total cost of the civil works component, the Minister noted, stands at $55.4million, including constructions of the Youkudi Clinic, one Public Market, Pleebo Lorry Park and the improvement of the Pleebo City Hall driveway, among others.

A total of US$64.56 million was allocated for the project and sourced from several financing arrangements including the African Development Fund (US$22.23 million UA Loan), African Development Fund (US$22.23 million UA Loan), Nigerian Trust Fund (US$6.5 Million UA Loan), Fragile State Facility (US$13.31 Million UA Grant), Government of Liberia (US$1 Million UA Counter Part Funding/Compensation for Project Affected Persons).

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