Monrovia – Liberian President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf has defended her decision to nominate former Public Works Minister Antoinette Weeks to the ECOWAS as Vice President for Infrastructure.
Weeks who failed to perform as Minister of Public Works forcing President Sirleaf to give her the boot, was nominated along with departing Maritime Commissioner Binyah Kesselly and Prince Tamba, Mr. Prince Tamba, a Transport Engineer currently working as an infrastructure consultant with the African Development Bank in Monrovia, for the coveted position. Following the submission of the names from Liberia, the regional body reportedly sent the names back to the Executive Mansion to tip the “most qualified” candidate for the position after which the name of Weeks was submitted to the ECOWAS body. Weeks’ poor performance as Public Works minister in Liberia prompted many to raise eyebrows when her name was sent to ECOWAS for the infrastructure position. But President Sirleaf, in an exclusive FrontPageAfrica interview this week, said the former minister met all of the requirements. “She met all the qualifications in what they are required for the position. Ms. Weeks is a qualified engineer, holding a PhD in that respect.” While acknowledging Week’s failure as Minister, the President explained that the former minister’s lack of political sanctity was a contributing factor. “She failed in Liberia because she lacked political sanctity. Where she is going, she will not be involved with political issues; she will be involved with professional job so she was qualified. But we made sure; we had two others because people also reading the notion, reading the papers and they will say things. We wanted to get delivery of our agenda, her own technical way but lack of political sensitivity made her delayed too much for us but she is on that list but we do not choose the person, we only listed and send them, they hold interviews, they look at the backgrounds, they do their entire test and they decide. She is attractive, a woman engineer, PhD in Africa.” Weeks’ nomination to the ECOWAS post is being welcomed with mixed reviews with many unsure that the woman who has been criticized for delaying the crucial Somalia Drive Road construction, the Ganta-Yekepa road and a host of other projects, can deliver at the ECOWAS level. In her new capacity, Ms. Weeks will be the Public Works Minister for ECOWAS, responsible for the road network from Dakar to Lagos and all other infrastructure projects sponsored by ECOWAS. Her appointment, according to sources have been greeted with skepticism by ECOWAS brass who have reportedly expressed wariness over Weeks’s professional relations and whether she would be up to the task owing to her poor performance as Public Works Minister in Liberia. At issue for the regional body is concern over the poor treatment a delegation from ECOWAS received from Weeks when she was Minister. The team had come to Monrovia to inspect the Fish Town to Harper Road pavement but left unimpressed by Weeks’ management style and lack of motivation and innovation. The Fish Town project is being funded by the African Development Bank Group but the objective of the project is to provide efficient road transport access to South Eastern Counties of Liberia and, by extension, to neighbouring ECOWAS/Mano River Union Member States (Cote d’Ivoire, Guinea and Sierra Leone). The Government of Liberia represented by the Ministry of Public Works applied to prequalify contractors and/or firms for the execution of the works for the paving of the Fish Town Harper Road. The works consist of the pavement of the road in asphaltic concrete to ECOWAS Design Standards. The length of the road is about 50 kilometers (km) from Harper to Karloken in Maryland County. The civil works involve the alignment of horizontal and vertical curves. Weeks, according to sources delayed the procurement process which has been a contributing factor to the current snail pace of one of President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf’s major infrastructure agenda before she completes her term. “The delay came from her which is why we are having problems today. China Railroad, the company selected for the project reportedly broke away from China Rail Road One and tipped for the crucial project but has been unable to deliver, according to sources privy to the project. During a recent tour of the area, FrontPageAfrica found a bunch of old equipment and angry residents unhappy with the pace of the project. During her tenure, Weeks consistently came under fire and fought of numerous protests owing to her failure to continue several road projects. At one point, the Minister was public scolded by Sirleaf who said she had not felt the impact of Minister’s presence in the Ministry but it was Weeks’ toying around with the consultant sent by the government of Japan that drew the most criticisms, leading to the delay of the US$50 million project. Weeks reportedly told the Japanese diplomat that she was too busy to meet. In an email to Minister Weeks from Mrs. Maki Okusa, Head of Office/Project Formulation Advisor Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA), Liberia Field Office took issue with the Minister for delay the project: “Even though you will be out of town next week, the Consultant is still planning to come to Liberia, if there is a chance, to pay a courtesy call to you and also to assess the current situation of Somalia Drive. He is arriving on Monday evening and will leave on Saturday.” The email went on, “I do not have your detail schedule of next week, but would it be difficult for you to meet with the Consultant even briefly if you are leaving town after Tuesday? He is arriving by Kenya Airways on Monday so if you have time, he will come to your office straight from the airport.” Okusa informed Minister Weeks that, “The reason I am asking for your time to meet with the Consultant is, as you may know already, unless JICA verifies the Contract, we are not going to disburse the payment to the DNC which means, no construction work will start.” The email from Okusa stated further: “Unfortunately, the Consultant will not be able to come to Liberia until May, if he loses this opportunity to meet with you. The best is the Consultant will meet with you even shortly but if that would be difficult, please kindly go through the Amendments of the Contract that the Consultant has emailed you. It would be greatly appreciated if you could give any comments or hopefully your consent when the Consultant contacts you by phone earlier next week. Minister, my biggest concern is the further delay of this project. This is a special project requested by Madam President. Due to the delay of RAP implementation, the project is already delayed while the expectation of the people is getting higher and higher. We are already in March and rainy season will be coming soon. As you know, if we miss current dry season, we have to postpone the commencement until later this year, which causes the huge delay to the entire schedule. This will be a big disappointment for people and also for Madam President,” said the email from Okusa.