The improved conditions of the Lofa highway during the last 20 months has massively cut down traveling time and improved business and the local economy, the company rehabilitating the road has vowed nothing but quality work.
“We have the contract to rehabilitate this road, and that is our focus—to do a better job,” Jonathan Swaray, the project engineer of Westwood Construction Inc, the company in charge of the road, told journalists recently outside Zorzor, Lofa county.
The company had earlier grounded its machines during the rainy season and to galvanize resources, but has now recommenced, officials said.
The resident engineer of Bong County Emulus A. Toliver confirmed that Westwood has recommenced full-scale rehabilitation of the Gbarnga-Voinjama road, dismissing speculations of abandonment.
The Bangladeshi Continent of the UN Mission in Liberia (UNMIL) is also making critical interventions on the highway with works that are not captured in Westwood’s contract, he said.
“It is Westwood on the road,” Toliver told journalists in Zorzor on Sunday (March 8). “Westwood is up to the task to fully rehabilitate the road when there is the necessary support. The equipments are available; I saw Westwood’s ability in term of fleet.”
Westwood and the Liberian Government entered an US$8 million contract to revamp the major corridor two years ago, with the first segment—Zorzor to Voinjama—now complete, while 50% of the Gbarnga-Zorzor stretch has already been done.
Investigation conducted by a team of journalists over the weekend revealed that the company in early February commenced work after grounding its machines last July to break for the rainy season and, later, for failure of government to make funds available in line with the contractual agreement.
The Bong Resident Engineer said in August of 2013, the UNMIL Bangladeshi commander, he identified as Major Zia, met him at his (Toliver) Gbarnga’s office and enquired what was happening to the road which rehabilitation had been contracted to a company.
He said the UNMIL official argued that there was no action on the road which is one of the Mission’s supply routes that had to be made passable. Toliver explained that he ordered UNMIL to do the necessary interventions since the road was a supply route to the Mission. “That’s how UNMIL mobilized and launched its site intervention, targeting critical areas on the road.”
Toliver explained that after Westwood recommenced work on the road in February, he immediately ordered UNMIL to halt its site interventions as the company responsible to rehabilitate the road had commenced work.
Toliver however said there is a bridge (Menn Bridge) that is in deplorable state for which he has asked UNMIL’s intervention because it was not included in Westwood’s contract. “I wrote on 12 September 2013, asking UNMIL’s intervention…to at least help save the structure. It was never a part of Westwood’s intervention.”
He continued: “They [UNMIL, Bang Engineer 20] assured that they were going to work on the bridge, and as I speak, they’ve drained the water, put in the diversion channel and they are working to save that infrastructure from further collapse.”
Meanwhile, Westwood’s Project Engineer Jonathan Swaray stated that the company is in full control of the road, admitting that they grounded their machines due to the raining season and lack of funds to continue the project.
“We started work around March 2013 and we worked for five months, and we went for break for the rain. The amount of work we did was above 50%. We worked from Zorzor through Salayea to the St. Paul River Bridge (bounding Lofa and Bong),” explained Swaray. “We stopped work in six months in 2013, beginning in July. We stopped work because we were waiting for funds from the Ministry [of Public Works] to continue. There were no funds. We had to service our machines; we had to buy spare parts; we had to get fuel for the machines to do the work, and we had done more than 50% and we didn’t get paid.”
He said “the agreement says we have to get certain percentage when we start work, and when we reach 50%, the, we get another payment.”
The Liberian Government is reportedly heavily indebted to several construction companies in the country in the tone of approximately US$95 million.
Many of these companies have been cautiously agitating for government to pay them as they were facing problems (including seizures) with banking institutions which had given them initial capitals to pre-finance their work. Construction companies often pre-finance percentages of work before receiving payments from government, insiders said.
Services of some of these employees were terminated, others staged peaceful protests, while some took to the media to vent out their angers. Some companies grounded their equipment as relations with the new Public Works Minister looked uncertain, while was reportedly broke to pay companies.
Swaray told journalists in Zorzor last Sunday that during their break, Westwood saw UNMIL engineers working on a bridge which is not part of their contract. “That bridge is not in my contract. I’ve got nothing to do with it.”
Swaray explained that the company has deployed three sets of machines on the road (a set including a grader, a loader, a compactor and trucks) to speed up work during the current dry season which is running out.
He said whether or not UNMIL did work on the road, it has nothing to do with Westwood’s contract. “I can tell you that even if they’re doing work, it has nothing to do with our contract. We’ve got contract on the road and that is what we are doing and we keep focused on our contract….If I see any work out there, it is not a good work. I gave my stop order. I told my people that any road work they see UNMIL people doing they should stop them; they should stop them because they’re spoiling my road.”
Swaray said UNMIL called him for a meeting in 2012 and he told them that his company has the contract to rehabilitate the road for two years. He said UNMIL asked how many culverts were needed to be constructed along the road and he identified them, and listed the ones that were not in Westwood’s contract.
During a visit to the area, our reporter saw several Westwood’s road building and earth-moving equipment clearing, grading and shaping the road, while a team of UNMIL engineers were working on the Menn Bridge.
The company began putting the road in shape late 2012 and has since worked on it, making the route better for the first time in the last four years since the Independence Day celebration was held in Lofa 2010.
“We have seen Westwoods machines working on this road year round. They are a good company. They have made our road better and travelling very easy for us this whole year, especially this rainy season,” a passenger truck driver, Mohammed Fofie Dorleh, stated last October.
“We are no more sleeping on the road. Before, we used to spend days or weeks on the road,” noted Vivian Akoi, a business woman.
She continues: “We used to travel with gallons of water and buckets, cook spoons and pots for cooking while traveling on this road. Today, it now takes few hours, not days or week from Monrovia to Voinjama.”
Goods, especially vegetables and other perishable commodities are no longer getting rotten as in the past due to the length of time spent on the road, travelers and marketers said.
Instead of days or a week covering the distance between Gbarnga and Voinjama, it now takes a maximum of five hours, depending on the type of vehicle. The volume of traffic has increased on the road, boosting economic activities and reducing prices. Writes D. K Sengeh from Lofa; +231886586531; firstname.lastname@example.org