Can Public Works Meet the very Serious Challenges Facing It?

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One of the puzzling policy actions for which President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf will most certainly be remembered is her many appointments of non-engineers to head distinctly engineering institutions.

Only history will judge how prudent these appointments were. The first was her appointment of Willis Knuckles in 2006 to head the Public Works Ministry. But following the fire that partially destroyed the Executive Mansion, imperiling it for the past 10 years, she gave Mr. Knuckles the job she had originally intended for him, Minister of State for Presidential Affairs. He replaced Morris Dukuly, who honorably resigned immediately following the fire.

Another puzzling appointment of a non-engineer to Public Works was Attorney Samuel Kofi Woods, a renowned Human Rights Lawyer. After serving in that post for roughly three years, he resigned to return to his vocation as a Human Rights Lawyer.

Another such appointment – of a non-engineer to head a distinctly engineering Ministry – was counselor Patrick Sendolo as Minister of Lands, Mines and Energy.

Ever since Arthur Sherman, Liberia’s first Mining Engineer and founding Director to the Bureau of Mines and Geology, departed to pursue his business interests, that office, which later became the Ministry of Lands, Mines and Energy, has with one exception, been handed by an engineer. That one exception was James Y. Gbaryea, a politician from Sanoyea, Bong County, whom President William R. Tolbert appointed Minister of Lands, Mines and Energy.

Few years ago President Sirleaf did it again by appointing a lawyer, Patrick Sendolo, as Minister.

Most recently the President named her third non-engineer as Public Works Minister. He is young Gyude (Warrior in Grebo) Moore. He is a technocrat who for several years served the President in the Projects Implementation Section of the Executive Mansion.

Just as Knuckles and Kofi Woods, Gyude Moore inherited an extremely tough assignment, fit for a highly efficient and tough civil engineer, in the order of Gabriel Johnson Tucker, who was reputed to be the most accomplished and celebrated Public Works head.

Knuckles inherited a war-devastated road system, and so did Kofi Woods. Both tried, with limited success, to fix the problem. But their efforts were bedeviled by the lack of financial resources to do what Public Works needed to do to fix the consummately challenging road conditions not just in the capital, Monrovia, but throughout the country.

Just recently this Newspaper, the Daily Observer, reported that the road to Saclapea, Nimba County, leading to Southeastern Liberia had been cut, making it impassable. Hordes of automobiles, including produce-carrying ones, as well as hundreds of passengers, including farmers, businesspeople NGO and government officials were stranded.

When President Sirleaf demanded that the Observer Publisher, Kenneth Y. Best, travel to Sinoe County “to see the bad roads you’ve been writing about, “—a trip that made Mr. Best sick and landed him twice in the John F. Kennedy Medical Center – it was indeed because of the atrocious road conditions barely three weeks to Independence Day. Yet Sinoe had been designated for the 26 celebration. Though passable by 26, the roads remained very bad. That was Minister Moore’s first major challenge. He succeeded in it. Many people were able to travel by road to Sinoe for 26.

But the Daily Observer in the last two weeks have reminded Minister Moore that the challenges are far from over.

On Monday this week, Minister Moore was landed with another road crisis. Our Public Works and Sanitation Correspondent Edwin Fayia reported that the bridges and road in the Paynesville Pipeline Community were in bad shape. He backed his revelation with graphic photos of a road and bridge, with water gushing through both due to the heavy downpour of rain.

Lutheran Bishop Jensen D. Seyenkulo had called the Observer Publisher one night in desperation, demanding that the newspaper come and see what he and his neighbors were going through and report the deplorable situation to Public Works and the public. The Bishop appealed to Minister Moore to prioritize, during the dry season, the rehabilitation of the Pipe Line roads and bridges. Bishop Seyenkulo lamented that hundreds of business people and residents were stranded across the creek connecting the Pipeline Business District to the Red Light market. The Bishop appealed to Public Works Minister Moore and his principal deputies “to leave their offices and tour community roads in Monrovia and its environs for practical experience.”

The very Paynesville Highway leading to the Liberian interior is daily becoming impassible, especially as one passes through the Red Light market. Vehicles and pedestrians, even motorbikes, have to wade through huge puddles of water which appear more like rivers of mud. That road is on the verge of being cut, just like the Saclapea road.

Yes, Public Works Minister Gyude Moore is no civil engineer, but he is now called to muster all the ingenuity he has to engage the experts in his ministry and anywhere else he can find them to help, as a matter of urgency, to fix these roads.

We are afraid that the heavy rainfall cannot be used as an excuse; for everyone knows that it has been raining heavily in Liberia from time immemorial. We cannot now blame the good Lord for this wonderful rainfall, propelled by, again, the blessed rain forest he has endowed us with to be able to grow our food. Too bad we are not growing our food, but have to import most of it. But we most certainly cannot blame God for that.

We think Minister Moore has to put on his mantle as a warrior to make the impossible possible, he must find the money and the engineers and do the trick by making the nation’s roads throughout the country – the cities and countryside alike – passable throughout the year.

This is his challenge. And we believe that with God, all things are possible!

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