Liberia: Stalled Work at RIA Posing Serious Threat to Commuters, Travelers as A Few Govt Officials Profiteer
MONROVIA – The Roberts International Airport (RIA) highway is said to be endangering the lives of citizens and other foreign residents as a result of the stalled and snail-pace reconstruction works currently ongoing and the lack of adequate monitoring and supervision from the Ministry of Public Works.
It can be recalled that on February 20, 2020, President George Manneh Weah broke grounds for the expansion and pavement of the RIA Highway. The 45km links Monrovia to the airport.
The project, which is being implemented through a China-Liberia joint venture with East International Group and China Railways being the contractors, worth about US$95m.
Constructions works have been described as sub-standards due to the failure of the Ministry of Public Works to supervise and thoroughly monitor the ongoing works.
FrontPage Africa visited the various sites where works are ongoing overt the week end and observed that no representative of the Ministry was present at the site visited. Few Chinese engineers, casual workers and security officers from the Kakata City Corporation were spotted.
Mr. Adolphus Mccritty is a seasoned civil engineer, former President of the Liberia Institute of Architects (LIA), and formerly the Liberia Chambers of Architects (LCA).
The group which was founded in 1978, is a Professional embodiment of Trained Licensed Architects who practice Architecture within the borders of Liberia. It is the Authorizing entity for Licensing Architects in Liberia, in collaboration with the Ministry of Public Works and the Ministry of Commerce. The LIA is also the Country member of the Africa Union of Architects (AuA), the West Africa Union of Architects (WAuA), and the Union of International Architects ( UIA).
Mr. Mccritty is the current President and Chief Architect of the Mccritty, Mccritty, & Christell, an Architectural Engineering Firm established in 1993.
He attributed poor construction works ongoing at the RIA highway to the lack of proper planning and feasibility studies.
“This is a lack of coordination, proper planning and failing to do due diligence or feasibility studies before embarking on such a huge project. This is just being inconsiderate to the impact that this project will have on the environment and on the lives of people who live, work or travel on that particular highway. This is like giving somebody a job to do and the person goes about doing the job without even doing proper planning”.
He justified that the poor standards of work being done on the highway is a “blatant disrespect” of citizens; right to freely move by using the RIA route.
Bothering nature and water swallowing culverts
Mr. Mccritty observed that the ongoing installation of culvert system did not take into consideration nature, especially the rainy season of Liberia.
He disclosed that efforts will be wasted and the road would elapsed as a result of the current situation.
“These people are bothering nature and they will not win unless they work with Mother Nature. They knew the rain was going to come. Those culverts you see off the road and some are stopping one side of the road- in front of those culverts, you see a pot of water there-eventually what’s going to happen is that, that water is going to shift over to the other side creating a soft spot in the road and the road is going to corrode and wash away and you have no way to travel back and forth the RIA route”.
“Any culvert-whether it is a box or ICP culvert, you have to have an inner gauge out; it’s like when you are trying to take gasoline from a container into your gas tank, why do you think you put the container with the gas at a higher elevation than where your gas tank is? It’s because, you want the gas to flow freely into your tank. But if you take a container and place it on the same level with your gas tank, it’s not going to work. That’s exactly what they are trying to do over there. They are putting culverts on the same level as the nature flow of water in that particular area. That’s the reason why you see the water is swallowing up the culverts.”
Waste of monies, time
Mr. Mccritty emphasized that the current project will not be of benefit to Liberians and others if the substandard works that are being done remain.
He said it will be a total waste of taxpayers’ monies if corrective measures are not taken at this early stage to correct the wrongs before the project progresses to another level.
“This is complete waste of time, money and energy because, when you are doing a road widening project on a major road like the RIA, the first thing you do is that, you create a detour that is separate from where you are working. That makes the normal flow of traffic to not be impacted with the work that you’re doing”.
Mr. Mccritty made specific reference to the road leading from across the Total Involvement Bridge to Tubmanburg, Bomi County.
He claimed that the German company which constructed the road leading to Bomi in the late 70s took two years to conduct what he called “investigative survey” to establish parts of the road that should be a target for construction.
“Investigative survey is what you do before you even start bringing wheel barrows. That’s the reason the Bomi highway is one of the best engineered in Liberia even though it is not being maintained. But if you look at the road between King Gray and Rehab junction, it is a complete mess. And at the end of the day, we end up spending money to do everything they did before. You see bottles of water on both sides of the streets. This is so frustrating and unfair to the citizens.”
No Investigative Survey for RIA?
He doubted the conduct of a thorough investigative survey or feasibility studies on the RIA road project prior to the commencement of construction works.
Mr. Mccritty blamed the situation on the failure of the relevant stakeholders to carry out an investigative studies of the project before its execution.
Questioning bidding process
He questioned the rationale behind the awarding of a huge contract to a company that is not properly performing on the initial works being done.
He maintained that though he does not want to answer to whether or not some public officials received “kickbacks” for the awarding of the contract to the two companies, it remains the responsibility of the Ministry of Public Works to guarantee the worth of money, noting that, “I don’t even know how they (company) even got this project.”
“When I was working with a construction company in the United States, the Georgia Department of Transportation had their representative on that site every single day to monitor what we were doing. But you don’t see any representative of Ministry of Public Works on the RIA road.”
Monitor and double-check
Mr. Mccritty observed that the RIA ongoing road reconstruction project is not being thoroughly monitored by the relevant authorities of the Ministry.
He stressed the need for an on-sight monitoring and double checking of reports from field agents, if there is any assigned on the site, to guarantee the worth of tax payers’ and donor funds.
“Somebody needs to monitor, double check and proof hog what they are doing before they even start to do what they do. I don’t think this project is even being monitored because if it was, we could not see some of the things we are seeing now.”
Doing it their way
Mr. Mccritty pointed out that as a result of poor monitoring and supervision of the project, the Chinese engineers have been given a “blank check by the Ministry of Public Works to do anything they want to do”.
He said no safety barrier or signs have been placed at strategic points by the contractors to inform travelers and commuters that there are ongoing construction works ahead.
“Driving from Monrovia to RIA or from RIA to Monrovia is a complete death trap. There are no safety barriers; it (road) is just open. If somebody gets kill or damage their vehicles because the road is very narrow, the company is not going to be held liable and the company knows this. The Ministry of Public Works has become very relax in what they are doing.”
“For example you have a presidential motorcade, you have to move to the side to allow the convoy to pass. This road is so narrow that it is nearly impossible to move your vehicle safely so the convoy can pass. These people know these things and they know that they can get away with it, but nobody will say or do anything about it.”
Mr. Mccritty emphasized that the failure of the contractors to make a better detour, citizens and foreign residents plying the route risk losing their lives or properties by falling into ditches along the route while trying to create a right way for a presidential motorcade or VIP escort as a result of the narrowness of the road.
He said the deplorable and risky nature of the road during this rainy season may not pose a risk to the President, but the lives of ordinary Liberians and others are threatened due to the poor standards and slow pace of works being done at the corridor.
“People going to work, coming from the hospital or the airport need to be very careful on that highway”.
Mr. Mccritty maintained that the “value for dollars will not be achieve because of the poor nature of the construction works.”
“In the short term, people are going to have accident because it is going to damage their vehicles and nothing is going to happen. They will have to bear the cost on their own because government is not going to assume the liabilities. Right now it’s not the matter of casting blame, it’s about people being professional or getting people who know about the ways and means to act or supervise construction on a daily basis”.
He pointed out that the Liberian economy will greatly be affected if the works continue as it is because, the road will be cut off or damaged shortly after the climax of the project.
“Right now because of the bad road, people are charging more for transportation fare and you can’t blame them.”
Speaking further, Mr. Mccritty underscored the need for the Ministry of Public of Public Works to outsource the supervision and monitoring of infrastructural works in the country as was similarly done during the administration of fallen Public Works Minister Gabriel Tucker.
He recalled that the ministry at the time outsource its assigned tasks and responsibilities to the Stanley Construction and Engineering Company.
He justified that all of the public infrastructural projects carried out from 1972 to 1980 are still constructurally sound even though they have been neglected or not maintained due to the farsightedness of the Tucker’s administration at the ministry.
Mr. Mccritty stated that public infrastructures will be sustained and value of money realized if a private company is accorded the opportunity to supervise and monitor projects on a daily basis.
“During those days, you could get in a Volkswagen and drive all the way to Voinjama, Lofa County or Harper, Maryland County perfectly because they had an active road maintenance crew. When William V. S. Tubman went to Voinjama to dedicate the monument, he drove his presidential Mercedes Benz from Monrovia all the way to Voinjama on that road. The road was not paved, but it was just maintained. I don’t know why that has not happened for the last 30 to 40 years”.
He wondered while past and current governments have not been able to maintain roads in the country, adding that, “since Tucker, no Minister of Public Works has left a legacy”.
Mr. Mccritty observed that though there are many young qualified Liberians currently working at the ministry, government still needs the expertise of experienced and seasoned engineers to guarantee the sustainability of public infrastructures, noting that, “you cannot learn everything in the classrooms”.
“When you come directly from college to the Ministry, you are coming there with a degree and not experience. So, the ministry requires experience that needs to run that particular department because, experience is missing. It’s almost like you are on a job training. And the current RIA road project does not require a learn-on-the-job person. It requires someone who is seasoned and who is a veteran”.
He said the situation is currently contributing to the poor works being done presently on the RIA highway project.
“What’s happening on the RIA highway is a complete lack of oversight because, nobody in any country will allow such works to go on at the only link between the airport and the city. We need workable plan from the contractors to tell us what they are doing or will do after every 5 or 10 miles and how they are going to do it so we can hold their feet to the fire for completion at specific time.”
“We need to have a benchmark to check these people; but if you just give them a blank check and say ‘let the road here, build it’, what do you think the people will do? They will do what they want to do and this is the case with the RIA road and we are seeing the results now.”
Scare to speak out
Mr. Mccritty, however, cautioned against the misconstruing of his observations on the RIA project by others at the helm of power.
He said his decision taken to point out the missteps is in keeping with his expertise and patriotic obligation to the nation and its citizens.
“Lot of days, I try not to say a lot of things that I observed like I used to do before because, people are telling me that ‘you are wasting your time, you are creating enemies for yourself and leave this people thing alone and don’t talk’.
“It’s not just me alone, there are other professionals who are equally experienced and trained like myself, but most of these people are afraid to talk because they could be hunted, sidelined, marginalized or castigated”.
Mr. Mccritty recalled how he was considered as an “arrogant” person by former Public Works Minister Gyude Moore for pointing out substandard works during the administration of ex-President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf.
“Instead of taking what I was saying to make his work more productive, he ostracized and tried to create enemies for me. It came to a point where he started to make people have mixed feelings about me because I was exposing their missteps.”
He used the occasion to call on authorities of the Government of Liberia (GOL), especially those at the Ministry of Public Works to always “extract the good and bad from statements and suggestions made by experts and use the good in the interest of the country and its citizens.”
Making enemies from criticisms
He maintained that his observations on public infrastructure works being carried out does not in any way imply that he wants to gain favor from anyone.
Mr. Mccritty indicated that criticisms should be taken in good fate by all well-meaning Liberians.
“When people criticize your work, there are two ways to take it. You take that criticism and improve yourself or you take that criticism and make an enemy of that person. What I noticed here in Liberia is that, Liberians do not like to be criticized. Everything they do must be praised; no, everything you do cannot be praised. Somebody has to be bold enough to step up to the plate.”
Travellers and commuters along the RIA highway are concerned about their lives and properties as a result of the deplorable state and slow progress of the project.
“I know that five years will pass before this road finished. For each time I pass here, I will have to do some kind of mechanical work on my car. In fact, we have to stay in queues for minutes because, you can even see someone to direct the flow of traffic”, Isaac Williams, a commercial driver stated.
Madam Eunice Stubblefield: “This road is more than just a death trap. If you are just coming to Liberia and your flight landed during the night hours, I advise that you either sleep at a guest house or avoid driving on this road during the night. We normally hear about accidents on this same road; I foresee many people losing their lives again and damaging their vehicles if the project is not done speedily and properly.”
She continued: “I emphasized properly because from the look of what I am seeing here, this road is not even up to standard as compare to what we normally see in other countries. The culverting system alone can discourage you from even thinking that Liberia is getting better when you return to your own country.”
Project enriching others
The source of funding of the RIA road expansion project remains scanty, but there are reports that the project is being financed by taxpayers’ monies.
A competitive bidding process which led to the selection of East International has been heavily questioned. A source has hinted that the World Bank, through its infrastructural development office at the Ministry of Public Works requested the government to provide details on the ongoing project. But up to present, the necessary documentations and information are yet to be submitted.
There are reports that the project is currently enriching a selective few government officials to the detriment of poor Liberian taxpayers.
The decision taken by the contractors to commence the project during the peak of the rainy season remains questionable.
However, the project is being used as a major campaign tool for the President Weah, who is seeking re-election in 2023.
Sources have hinted that the first phase of the project is expected to be dedicated by the Liberian Chief Executive before the elections in October next year.
The RIA Highway has been a death-trap since it was built in the 1940’s, during World War Two. Scores of citizens have lost their lives and properties worth thousands of United States dollars damaged as a result of the narrowness and poor state of the road.
Fears continue to grip travelers and commuters, especially those plying the route during the late night hours as a result of the delay in the ongoing construction works and the lack of visible signs, including reflective to direct drivers of danger ahead.