Fire in the Senate: Where is Liberian Maintenance?

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Perhaps one of the first things the new Ellen Johnson Sirleaf administration should have done, coming into office for the first time was to do a thorough assessment—architectural, electrical, plumbing, structural and environmental—of the Executive Mansion into which it (the new administration) was moving for the first time.

Alas! In the euphoria of taking and setting up office, that was not done. Barely five months later there was a fire that resulted in the forced transfer of the President and her entire Executive Mansion staff to the Foreign Ministry Building, where they have been ever since. The fire incident also led to the resignation of Ellen’s Minister of State, Morris Dukuly. (He is back in the Cabinet as Internal Affairs Minister).

Last Friday, in our editorial on China’s friendship, we recalled the renovation work it and the United States had done on some of Liberia’s public facilities. Among them was the renovation by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) on the Capitol Building as well as on the Public Works Ministry. Not long thereafter, we further remembered, the same Capitol Building was forced to close all bathrooms due to water problems, and we wondered what condition that building and that of Public Works were in.

Little did we know that before that editorial was even published—as it was written in advance—a serious fire would strike the Capitol, causing Senators to abruptly suspend their debates.

This means that the 53rd Legislature, before it entered the Capitol, also failed to have it thoroughly checked out. And now the fire, which last Tuesday, of course, took them by complete surprise! This immediately leads us to the more general and most probably urgent question—what is the condition of all the other buildings, those owned by the GOL and those being leased?

The two closely related issues here are the safety of GOL’s assets and records in these facilities and the cost of renovation. The Senate and the House of Representatives must now hang heads and decide what to do. But surely they need to make an immediate assessment of what might have been lost and then see how they can muster the resources for immediate renovations to allow then to continue their work. This we believe they must do while they await the coming of the Chinese technicians to undertake the promised renovations.

It seems to us that GOL may now need to undertake an immediate assessment of all its facilities. But where will the money come from in this post-Ebola era with all the demands for the reconstruction of the country’s entire healthcare delivery system? For months we have been urging the government to create a comprehensive strategy or roadmap for thorough and complete over haul of the healthcare delivery system, which several of our development partners, especially China, the United States,
European Union and some other nations have pledged. So in this sense, if the GOL can act quickly and decisively in the presentation of such a road map, the partners may come forth with funding for that. GOL may then determine where the resources will come from for a thorough rehabilitation of all its facilities, beginning with the current seat of the presidency, the Foreign Ministry Building.

What immediately comes to mind here is the Executive Mansion itself. It has been nearly 10 years since that fire and attempts have been made to renovate the building. But until now the public is in the dark as to what is going on. People are asking whether renovations will be complete in time for the President to spend at least her last two years there. That would be a good thing, for many, we are sure, including the Chiefs and other traditional leaders and people from all the counties, are longing to come see their Mansion again in exquisite form. We pray that something will be done by Christmas. After all, Ebola is gone, and that would be one more time for Liberians to celebrate.

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