‘New’ Defense Building Demolished

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The much-talked about demolition of the unfinished Ministry of National Defense building in Congo Town, outside Monrovia, was finally completed yesterday. Several persons who witnessed the final demolition of the building could not hold back their feelings as some of them, mainly the women, wailed.

Government representatives coordinated the exercise with engineers from the People’s Republic of China (PRC), thereby paving the way for the PRC to begin the construction of the US$60 million ministerial complex.

The total construction area of the complex is said to be 24,000 m2, including offices, meeting rooms, a lecture hall, multi-functional conference hall, archive, administration and dining rooms, which are designed to accommodate a maximum of 1,300 persons, with auxiliary facilities such as pump room, substation, distribution and generator rooms furnished with necessary office equipment and furniture.

It all began on Tuesday, September 11, 2012, when former Chinese Ambassador to Liberia Zhao Jianhua and Liberia’s former Foreign Affairs Minister Augustine Kpehe Ngafuan signed an agreement for the construction of a multimillion dollar ministerial complex.

The signing ceremony held at the Foreign Affairs Ministry, was witnessed by President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and several government officials.

The complex, which will house 13 ministries and will take three and a half years to complete, will be the second largest building constructed by China in Africa after the African Union (AU) headquarters in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

Ngafuan said that the signing signified that President Sirleaf and her government would be “finally closing the chapter on the inconvenience of being a tenant and opening a new chapter on the respectability and cost-saving of being a landlord.”

He traced the stages of President Sirleaf’s administration from the legacy of problems it inherited including the huge sums of money spent annually on rent for buildings to house government ministries and agencies.

“Government is still grappling with this problem up to today but some significant strides have been made over the past few years to reverse what is clearly an anomalous and, to some extent, a shameful reality,” Ngafuan said.

He then recounted various assistance ventures of the Chinese Government including its contribution of troops to the peace process in 2003 and several investments including the 2009 signing of a US$2.6 billion Concession Agreement (the highest ever in Liberia) for the mining of iron ore, the construction of the Jackson Fiah Doe Memorial Hospital (the second largest health facility in Liberia), the modern Fendall campus of the University of Liberia, and Chinese built high schools, among others. He added that China has provided more than 200 under and postgraduate scholarships to Liberians.

Former Chinese Ambassador Zhao said in his remarks that the construction will save the Liberian Government a lot of money, “because when completed, it would host 13 ministries and agencies.”

He said his government’s decision to construct the complex resulted from President Sirleaf’s request to the Chinese Government. “So, the credit goes to Madam Sirleaf since the building will be a lasting symbol of both nations,” Amb. Zhao added.

The cost will be paid out of the gratuitous assistance stipulated in the Agreements on Economic and Technical Corporation between the Chinese and Liberian Governments, which obliged the Liberian Government to provide the land for the project.

Mixed Reactions

Some of those who witnessed yesterday’s demolition expressed indignation with the decision, saying, “The government should have spared the unfinished building or redirected it for other agencies, or at least a health center rather than to break it down.”

“This is a wasteful exercise. It is not about whose administration birthed the construction, but taxpayers’ money wasted,” a female resident of the nearby controversial Peace Island remarked.

For Pastor Woeemleh of the World’s Evangelical Church on the Island, “Government should have relocated the Islanders than destroyed what was built with Liberian people’s hard earned money.”

A combination of youth organizations in the nearby communities were divided over the decision, with some expressing gratitude to the government for creating job opportunities, while some said they would register their disagreement for the demolition of the structure.

Whatever the arguments, the fact of the matter is that the building has finally been demolished, thus proving the maxim that “development comes with pains.”

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