MONROVIA – As part of efforts to curtail the mountainous constraints confronting the over 300,000 residents in northern Liberia due to bad road condition, the Emir of the Gulf state, in Qatar, Tamin Bin Hamad Al Thani, has committed to providing additional funding for the second phase of pavement of the Gbarnga-Mendikorma Highway (Lofa Road) project.
Since 1964, Lofa, which is considered as the “bread basket” of Liberia has suffered from the deplorable nature of its road.
By Obediah Johnson
Prior to its worsened road condition, a huge percentage of crops or produce, including rice, plantain and ground nuts consumed by citizens and other foreign residents were planted and harvested in Lofa, and marketed in Monrovia and other nearby counties.
But currently, citizens, mostly commuters plying the route during the rainy season are constrained to spend several nights in passengers or private vehicles stuck in the mud while commuting due to the dilapidated condition of the road.
As a result of the situation, the prices of basic commodities, produce and others continue to skyrocket, thereby imposing more hardship and suffering on the already impoverished masses.
Farmers transporting their crops or produce from and to market places continue to experience huge losses as a result of the bad road condition, making them to loss their previous title of being the bread basket to providing foods for the nation and its people These produce rot before reaching the market places.
Vast majority of citizens hailing from Lofa, who are residing in Monrovia and other parts of the country, do not go back to their hometown frequently as compared to others due to the situation.
Though Lofa remains the second most populated counties in Liberia next to Montserrado, bad road connectivity remains a major problem that is also hampering infrastructural and economic growth and development in the county.
Access to basic social services is rare, making the county to be one of the least developed in post-conflict Liberia despite producing Vice Presidents and other top government officials for several decades.
However, past and current governments have been exerting efforts in seeking the appropriate funding to alleviate some of the mountainous constraints residents of Lofa are faced with as a result of the poor state of the road.
On Monday, February 22, 2016, the administration of ex-Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, has signed a US$20M landmark Loan Agreement with the OPEC Fund for International Development (OFID) for the immediate pavement of the 81-km Gbarnga-Salayea Road.
Former Minister of Finance and Development Planning, Amara Konneh signed on behalf of the Liberian government while Mr. Suleiman J. Al-Herbish, Director General of the OPEC Fund for International Development signed on behalf of his institution.
The signing ceremony took place in Vienna, Austria. It was intended to commence the first phase of the Gbarnga-Mendikorma Road project.
The project was particularly signed to accelerate regional trade and commerce, as well as the overall economic development of Liberia by opening up the North-Western part of the country.
On Thursday, December 21, 2017, Madam Sirleaf broke grounds for the first phase of the project which runs from Gbarnga to Salayea Highway, leaving out her close friend ex-Vice President Joseph Nyuma Boakai and handpicking President George Manneh Weah to form part of the event just few days to the runoff presidential election.
The total cost of the project was estimated at US$40,858,212.49.
The project which commenced in January 2018 did not meet its completion date of 2021. It is being implemented by the Chinese Engineering Firm, CHICO.
There were originally five financiers of the project including the Arab Bank for Economic Development (BADEA) – US$3.8 million, Kuwait Fund for Arab Economic Development (KFAED) – US$6.9 million, OPEC Fund for International Development (OFID) – US$$8.9 million, Saudi Fund for Development (SFD) – US$9.1 million and the government of Liberia (GoL) – US$11.9 million.
But the delay by the government to resettle citizens who were in close proximity to the road and the payment of contracts strangulated the smooth implementation of the project.
Though the project is currently on course, the Coalition for Democratic Change (CDC) led-government is exerting additional efforts to ensure the commencement of the second phase of the project in a timely manner.
As evidenced by that, President Weah secured a major victory on his trip to Qatar, which is at the invitation of the Emir of the Gulf state, Tamin bin Hamad Al Thani, and Federation of International Football (FiFA).
During a bilateral meeting between the Liberian leader and his Qatari counterpart in Doha on Sunday, November 27, the Emir committed his country to funding the second phase of the Lofa Road project (Gbarnga -Mendikorma Highway).
The Liberian leader described the corridor as a “critical national infrastructure” that his administration is committed to seeing through.
The first phase of the project, which the Qatari government is also helping to fund, through the Arab Bank for Economic Development (BADEA), is nearing completion.
President Weah hailed the strengthening of diplomatic ties between the two nations since its establishment more than a decade ago.
President Weah also used the occasion to forge new grounds of cooperation between the two countries.
“May I also recount our last phone conversation, during which you committed to continue the process of assisting the Government and People of Liberia in the areas of health, agriculture, infrastructure development, and the building of basic human skills”, the Liberian leader stated.
He also highlighted a promise made by the Qatari Emir to assist with the provision of training opportunities and logistical support for the security sector of Liberia.
President Weah further extended an invitation to the Emir to pay a State visit to Liberia.
He expressed the Government of Liberia’s gratitude for the Qatari team that visited Liberia to assess the development needs of the country.
While in Liberia, the team engaged with authorities of several line Ministries and Agencies; including the Ministries of Foreign Affairs, Health, Youth and Sports, Internal Affairs, Commerce, Trade and Industry; and Gender, Children and Social Protection.
“The Government and People of Liberia look forward to a positive outcome from these assessments”, President Weah maintained.
He described the State of Qatar as a “true, reliable and strategic friend”, with whom Liberia enjoys mutual cooperation and outstanding support.
While highlighting the investment potentials of Liberia, President Weah expressed confidence and hope of Qatar Airways flying to Liberia in order to “build public-private partnership with actors in the Liberian private sector, with the view of establishing a local airline in Liberia.”
Meanwhile, President Weah has congratulated the Emir, government and people of Qatar for the high level of “professionalism and efficiency” with which they exhibited so far with the organizing and hosting of the ongoing FIFA World Cup 2022.
“You have made us proud of the efforts that we made a decade ago, in our personal capacity, to support Qatar’s bid to host the World Cup for the first time in the Middle East, which were similar to the support we gave to South Africa’s successful bid to host the World Cup in Africa for the first time.”
He observed that though his efforts at the time were subjected to unwarranted personal attacks, those attacks proved to be unfounded.
“We feel that it was a small price to pay to establish the principle of the universality of sports, and that it should not be the exclusive preserve of only a few countries and/or regions that have had multiple opportunities to host this very important global event.
Emir Tamin Bin Hamad Al Thani, however, accepted the President’s verbal invitation to pay a State visit to Liberia.
Criticized for travelling
On October 31, President Weah departed the country for Morocco and Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt to attend the MEDays Forum and COP27 respectively.
On November 9, he departed Egypt and arrived in Paris, France to attend the 5th Edition of the Paris Peace Forum which serves as a platform upon which state and non-state actors engage in transnational cooperation for collective action.
He’s currently in Qatar for two weeks to witness his son Timothy Weah, who received a call up to the senior national team of the United States of America, features in the World Cup.
President Weah extended his trip abroad by additional 25 days. The notice of the extension was contained in a letter he dispatched to the Liberian Senate on Tuesday, 18 November.
A dispatch from Doha, Qatar, where the president is Guest of Honor of the Fifa World Cup, noted that the president will not be returning home until 18 December.
“It has now become necessary to extend my trip abroad due to other official engagements requiring my travel to France, Monaco and the United States of America,” excerpts from the president’s dispatch to the Liberian Senate.
President Weah, according to the dispatch, is expected to attend the 13th Edition of the Peace and Sports International Forum in Monaco, France, where he is expected to serve as Special Guest of Honor from 30 November to 3 December.
On 13 December, President Weah will be attending the United States-Africa Leaders Summit at the invite of the President of the United States of America Joe Biden, according to the dispatch.
The President has been heavily criticized back home by scores of citizens including his political opponents for using tax payers money to travel to the World Cup along with a huge delegation.
Key among those who criticized his extensive stay out of the country is the Standard Bearer of the new Collaborating Political Parties (CPP) Mr. Alexander Cummings.
Mr. Cummings claimed that the move made by the Liberian leader to stay out of Liberia for several weeks clearly demonstrates the truth that his administration does not care about the Liberian people.
He said public officials only cared about illegally enriching themselves by cutting the salaries of civil servants, making life increasingly difficult for them.
He added that citizens are suffering everywhere in the country and in every political party, while the President “uselessly runs around the world at the expense of the people.”
“President Weah is flying about in private jets paid for by the Liberian people while Liberians, including an 8-weeks old baby, are drowning from capsized canoes while traveling to their farms. President Weah is sleeping in the vest of hotels in other countries while many are sleeping in slums and going to bed hungry. President Weah is enjoying while Liberians are suffering, civil servants salaries are harmonized to as low as $40 per month, cost of living is rising, and people are not being paid on time!”
“This is wicked. This is not presidential leadership. It is self-seeking and an abuse of the trust of the Liberian people. We will end this in 2023, and give Liberians a chance to better their lives. Liberia is too rich for Liberians to be so poor!”
But it now appears that the prolong stay of the Liberian Chief Executive out of the country has started to reap substantial dividends or benefits for Liberia and its citizens.
His critics and political opponents will be compelled to bury their faces in shame and disgrace when the Qatar’s envelope for the second phase of the Gbarnga-Mendikorma Highway project comes to fruition.