-Grand Kru Superintendent Doris Ylatun
At least 20 vehicles get stuck in the mud for several days every week between Gio Town in Grand Bassa County and ITI community in Rivercess County. And though the problem presents some economic respite for the youth in communities along the road, who along with fellow drivers, help get those vehicles through the mud, the much bigger problem is that the progress of business and development, bound for Southeastern Liberia, is blocked, a commercial driver told the Daily Observer.
It has been ten years since Jordana Hochman, in a report for the NPR wrote: “The roads are a major challenge for Liberia’s recovery. They block Liberians’ access to hospitals and schools, make it difficult for farmers to transport produce before it spoils, and impede the distribution of aid.”
Very little of this narrative, especially in rural Liberia, has changed. And while President George Manneh Weah has declared himself the “medicine for bad roads”, three years into his first term, most of his efforts on bad road relief have been in suburbs of the nation’s capital, Monrovia.
Doris N. Ylatun, Superintendent of Grand Kru County, the place from whence Liberia’s current President George Manneh Weah hails, knows all too well the constraints bad roads pose on rural development. Even while carrying out her own duties, the road condition has tested her ability to be resourceful in moving around the county and getting things done.
According to Superintendent Ylatun said since the 12th edition of the County Sitting, held over five months ago, when it was agreed that a vehicle would be purchased for her. The vehicle has been purchased, she says, but is yet to be delivered to her in the county because it is still in Monrovia, due to bad roads.
“Since my appointment in 2018 l am yet to get a vehicle. Between 2018 – 2019, the funds weren’t sufficient and it was just in 2020 the county sitting agreed to to buy me a US$33,000 vehicle but, since it was purchased, it’s still in Monrovia because of the bad roads. The roads are blocking progress in Grand Kru County,” Madam Ylatun said.
“For the past years, l am without a formal vehicle, so am using rented motorbikes and [chartered] vehicles to work,” she added.
Drivers said the road between Gio Town in Grand Bassa and ITI community in Rivercess County are so deplorable that commercial drivers and motorcyclists have drastically increased their fares.
On this route, where commercial drivers would normally manage to squeeze at least two or three roundtrips in a week, the bad roads have constrained them to just one roundtrip, if at all, drastically cutting their projected incomes. In addition to the time value lost, there is the extra wear and tear on the vehicles, as though that weren’t enough already, there’s the perennial cost of “dropping the gates” at state security checkpoints along the road. Portion of the fares also go toward paying off those who will assist the vehicles, when stuck in the mud, to get out.
The costs add up rather quickly, depending on the size of each vehicle and the amount of load it may be carrying.
Normally, commercial vehicles would charge $10,000 while motorbikes would charge L$6,000 for the distance from Buchanan to Greenville. Now the fares have increased by more than 50 per cent because of the bad roads. For the same distance, vehicles now charge around L$16,000 and motorbikes, around L$10,000.
Joe Jojo, the Project Supervisor of the Building Construction Company (BCC), which is undertaking the Presidential Pro Poor Housing Project, said bad roads are delaying the implementation of project, which started since February 2019. According to him, BCC paid up to US$7,000 to transport materials to Grand Kru County because of the bad road.
The Housing Units, which are 27 feet in length and 25 feet in width, contain two bedrooms, a living room, a bathroom and two porches (front and back).
BBC was contracted to build 170 housing units in six of the nine towns in Sasstown while another contractor, Mobel, is due to construct 33, also in the six towns.
The towns include Jekwikpo, Felorkri, Daryokpo, Kitea, Klaydia and Kunie. Norkwia, Sloyee and Wessah towns are the only towns in Sasstown which are not part of the construction. Meanwhile, the Presidential Pro Poor Housing Units are also being constructed in the cities of Grand Cess and Barclayville.
A staff for Mobel, who begged not to be named, said the major constraints in the completion of the houses are the transportation of the building materials which is very expensive, strenuous and a headache
The staff said the high cost of the road transport has caused them to use water transport, which is a slightly cheaper and very risky.
“We are suffering. Progress in the southeast is very slow because of the bad roads,” one passenger said on August 6th.
There are times during the rainy season when some roads are completely cut off, another commercial taxi driver reported.
Several of the drivers and passengers interviewed said in the government’s effort to support economic growth, it should focus on upgrading strategic roads across the country in order to connect major counties and towns to the nation’s capital.
“Road network and connectivity have become one of the most challenging issues for people, especially women in rural Liberia,” a member of the House of Representatives, who requested not to be named, said. “The roads, which are essential for development, livelihood and boosting the economy of Liberia, still pose a major challenge to commuters and business people.”
Reports said President George M. Weah, is yet to visit the southeast, especially Grand Kru County — his hometown — because of the bad roads, but other reports said it was because of the COVID 19 pandemic.
Meanwhile, between 1981 up to present, Liberia has produced two elected Presidents and one interim President from the Southeast, namely: the late President Samuel K. Doe (1985) from Grand Gedeh; currently President George M. Weah (2018) from Grand Kru County and former interim President, Dr Amos Sawyer (1990), from Sinoe County.