By D. Kaihenneh Sengbeh
“What kind of trouble is this?” he complained. “This is not time to fix roads; it should be done at night,” he menacingly added, though an opposed equal response would follow by a fellow passenger, a female. “People like you will never be satisfied,” a she countered. “When the people work, you vex; when they not work, you vex. Your give the people chance to do their work because we want good roads.”
Many Liberians in a around Monrovia, where road repair works are currently being done by the Ministry of Public Works are involved in heated exchanges like the above. One group of people argues that the Ministry needs to immediately respond to damaging roads across the city that are undermining free vehicular movements, while the other argues that it was inappropriate for the Ministry to “be fixing roads in the day” especially during rush hours.
Those aching to see a revamped road careless about the consequences: whether the work is done in the day or at night, or amidst heavy traffics or not. The road must get better is their concern. The agitators, though they, too, have interest in the revamping of roads, they want it done at night, when there is no traffic. They care not about capacity and the availability of resources and equipment that would facility road construction at night. All they want bid free movement.
Arguments like this nature will always exist among human beings. Whatever the case, Public Works is back on the roads.
For the first time since 2013, no major repair works have been done on major roads around the Liberian capital, least to mention rural areas. The roads have really gone bad. The statutory government agency responsible for the construction, repairs and maintenance of roads—Public Works—has in the last two years been one of the biggest sleeping giants in the Ellen Johnson Sirleaf administration. The agency which contributed significantly to the reelection of President Sirleaf in 2011 (based on the number of roads it built which were used as one of the president’s campaign achievements) began to crumble to nothingness when former Public Works Minister Samuel Kofi Woods, II resigned to return to advocacy.
Woods’ (now practicing law and advocating for social justice) stewardship at Public Works, in the midst of daunting financial challenges, made the ministry one of the most, if not the most, responsive and productive arms of government.
After at least three months of searching, President Sirleaf named American-trained engineer Dr. Antoinette G. Weeks to replace Woods. Weeks would become controversial government official, massively flopping on the job, despite getting a reported alarming salary of US$15,000 excluding lucrative fringe benefits in a country where about 70% of the population sleeps with hunger.
Her administration was characterized by total non-cooperative posture with everyone—her deputies, assistant ministers, junior staff, civil servants, and the media. Weeks embarked on a fruitless venture of reforming the Ministry and condemned all that her predecessors had done.
During the first few months of her reign at Public Works, President Sirleaf told Weeks at her (President) birthday party that she had not seen the Minister’s footprint. A year later, Weeks would have turned the Ministry of Public Works upside down, with no trace of any started and completed project. Not even a quick impact project! It was a waste of taxpayer’s money.
All that is history! With Gyude Moore now in the driver’s seat — many Liberians including President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf hope that he will do more to resurrect the infrastructure agency of government. The young Public Works minister is not waiting for the President to ask him about his footprints (achievements) at another birthday party.
Immediately after his confirmation by the Liberian Senate, Moore hit the ground running with his responsibility. During the Christmas week, Public Works engineers, technicians were back on the roads doing quick impact repair works around the city. Tens of thousands of commuters using the UN Drive (Bushrod Island- Duala route) faced huge traffics for days. At another time, thousands of others were compelled to disembark from vehicles to trek to their destinations. Criticisms grew wide, but Moore and his engineers stuck to their plan, and in three days, both the heavy traffic and the deplorable state of the road had disappeared. Free and easy movement restored!
Again, late last week, there was similar traffic on the Bushrod Island, where road patching works and drainage rehabilitation are ongoing—intended to create free flow of traffic as well as a goods and services. It is this kind of momentary traffic that the two individuals quoted at the beginning of this article were discussing, while we were riding on a taxi together. Frankly, we spent over 30 minutes (instead of 5) in a traffic that seemed unshakable. But only a day later, there is no more traffic and potholes that themselves caused traffic and damage to vehicles. This is a commendable progress.
This is the kind of Public Works that has been missing for over 20 months—a Public Works that maintains and repairs deplorable roads and make them vehicle worthy. With better roads and easy movements of goods and services, productivity will be enhanced. The economy will grow, income will increase, government’s revenue will get bigger, and poverty will reduce. In another word, roads are very important to the overall development of the country, and Gyude More has got an enormous challenge at hand.
Addressing journalists at the Information Ministry early this year, the youthful Public Works Minister disclosed that his administration intends to place more emphasis on improving the condition of major roads and bridges around the country, emphasizing that these infrastructures are vital in Liberia’s overall development drive.
The first few months of 2015 will the busiest for his administration, as the Ministry’s engineers and contracted partners are embarking on the redesigning and reconditioning of existing roads, constructing new ones, as well as making sure that Liberians benefit from the end results, Moore noted.
Moore said the first phase of road works will focus on projects being directly funded by the Government of Liberia, which completion will greatly impact ongoing efforts by the government in ridding the country free of the Ebola Virus Disease. “With an improved road network around the country,” he asserted, “health workers can easily move ambulances into affected communities and get sick people out.”
True to his words, engineers, yellow machines and giant trucks are on the roads—on UN Drive, on Somalia Drive, on Bardnersville Kebbah Road, and many others—working to make them better. Certainly, Public Works has resurrected to do the people’s work, with Gyude Moore showing early footprints.
About The Author: Danicius Kaihenneh Sengbeh is a respected Liberian journalist, poet and writer with media experience since 2001. He has significantly covered infrastructure development. He’s Secretary General of the Press Union of Liberia, former Editor-In-Chief of The Informer Newspaper, and currently freelancing and consulting. He’s a UN Media Fellow and UN Medal Award-winning journalist who holds a Bachelor’s of Arts Degree in Mass Communication and Sociology from the University of Liberia and a Diploma in Journalism from the International School of Journalism. Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org; +231886 586531/+231777586531