At long last, Liberia’s Public Works Minister, Dr. Antoinette Weeks, has gotten the presidential ax, giving way to incoming Minister William Gyude Moore formerly of the Executive Mansion.
In swift reactions, many Liberians have reminded MPW-in-waiting Moore that the challenges to reconstructing and maintaining the nation’s road system are indeed enormous, almost insurmountable.
Sadly, Mr. Moore is expected to inherit a system that did not perform to the expectations of Liberians. Rural farmers and businesspeople particularly, have over the years endured severe hardships of transporting their goods and produce over the deplorable roads to the markets around the country at risk to their lives, at escalating fares and sometimes having to travel for days while incurring the loss of perishable produce because a section of the road had become impassable.
Primary, secondary and feeder roads constructed and rehabilitated by government and its foreign partners during the tenure of former Public Works Minister Samuel Kofi Woods remain in a state of serious disrepair nationwide, due to a combination of factors, including poor construction, poor or non-existent maintenance, lack of financial resources and heavy rains.
In late 2013 and into 2014, primary and secondary roads in Liberia’s Southeastern counties became very bad, hampering the movement of critically needed goods, services, trade and commerce in that part of the country.
On one significant occasion, outgoing Minister Weeks and her team of engineers took an official trip to Sinoe County in the southeast to assess the condition of the highways for possible reconstruction and rehabilitation.
It may be recalled that in June 2014, Minister Weeks and her team of engineers themselves were stranded for several hours along one of the terrible stretches on the Sinoe highway.
In order to rescue herself and her team from the embarrassing situation, the MPW former boss negotiated with a road construction company to make 15 gallons of fuel available to pull the MPW vehicles out of the deep mud.
Outcries have been heard all around the nation about the difficulties in reaching many places by road, especially during the rainy season.
On top of the many problems created under the administration of outgoing Minister Weeks was her rendering of the Communications and Publication Department of the MPW totally ineffective. Not only did they have very little to work with, but she reportedly gave strict instructions that they were not permitted to make any comments whatsoever about anything going on or not going on at the Ministry.
Minister Moore, if confirmed, comes to the new job to face daunting challenges specifically with regard to the nation’s deplorable road network which has not been maintained for nearly two years.
With the dry season already started in Liberia, Minister designate Moore, if confirmed, should without delay begin to prepare for the herculean tasks ahead in close consultations with all the engineers at the MPW as well as the many road building contractors, who outgoing Minister Weeks has kept at bay since her appointment.
Most of these contractors complain that the government owes them money which they have been unable to collect over many months, saying this is one of the reasons for the poor condition of the roads throughout the country.
Mr. Moore needs to assemble a team of highly qualified professionals who will help him sort out the Ministry’s legitimate contractual obligations and pay them as well as work with support partners in order to get underway the construction, repair and maintenance of major highways across the country.
The MPW-designate, if confirmed, should also act swiftly to prioritize the sustained rehabilitation and reconstruction of feeder roads in all parts of the country.
Correspondingly, rural farmers and Liberian businesspeople residing in many parts have reminded the Liberian Government, support partners and donor countries that placing emphasis on the rehabilitation of roads would boost the nation’s economy.
Businesspeople and farmers point out that once rural roads are constantly rehabilitated and maintained, goods, services, trade and commerce will be able to reach all parts of the country.