Contrary to Weah’s Promise, No Coastal Highway for Southeastern Liberia

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Report by Lennart Dodoo, [email protected] 

Monrovia – If you were expecting to see a new stretch of road along the beautiful coast of Liberia, from Buchanan to Rivercess, Grand Kru to Maryland, forget it – it’s not going to happen.

Hopes were high and a whole lot of praises heralded the promise of the coastal highway linking the impoverished Southern Liberia to the rest of the country. However, it seems President George Weah was speaking in a different context than what was publicly understood.

Clarifications were never made on the media’s interpretation of a brand new road that the President had said he would build until a week ago.

The construction of the coastal highway was first mentioned by President Weah when he addressed members of the 54th Legislature for first time on the state of the nation and his legislative agenda in January this year.

He said, “I would like to inform you that my immediate strategy for reducing poverty, increasing youth empowerment through job creation and training, and improving the productivity of our economy, is to embark upon a comprehensive road and highway construction program that will link all county capitals with all-weather paved primary roads.

“They will be built to the highest international standards, and linked to paved secondary farm-to-market roads that will enhance agriculture, trade, and tourism in Liberia. Particular priority will be given to a coastal highway that will run from Buchanan to Harper, which will eventually end the complete isolation of south-eastern Liberia, a condition that has existed since the formation of this country.”

Liberians, especially the southeasterners, being very conversant of the difficulties they have to go through traveling to and fro counties in the region and the effects of the bad road condition on the economy of the region were very enthused by this gigantic promise.

Traveling from Monrovia to the Southeast is not only very costly compared to traveling to other parts of the country, it is also a daunting task. It would take one a whole day or two, and if the rains start to fall heavily in the Rainy Season, one should be prepared for the worst.

The Pro-Tempore of the Liberian Senate, Senator Albert Chie, who hails from Grand Kru County, told reporters last week the government does not have money to undertake the task. He said the best alternative government could employ is to pave existing roads in the region.

Senator Chie, also a mining engineer, said constructing the coastal highway would be very costly because on the number of rivers along the coast leading to that region. He said constructing bridges over each of them would be very expensive for the government to handle.

Speaking on the subject, Presidential Press Secretary Sam Mannah told Truth FM in Monrovia that President Weah never meant a new stretch of road along the coast.

“When the President said he was going to build a coastal highway, he did not mean constructing a new road along the sea like the one you see behind Budget Bureau. I think the President was actually referring to paving the existing roads going towards the Southeast. So, if you were thinking there is going to be a brand new road along the Atlantic ocean, that’s not what the President meant,” he said.

Government has been sourcing funding for the construction of roads in fulfillment of its promise to the Liberian people. In the wake of that, the Government of Liberia took a decision to apply for US$536 million in loan for which it has signed a Memorandum of Understanding with an Asian conglomerate, led by the Singaporean-based Eton Finance Private Limited.

Finance Minister Samuel Tweah recently told Liberians in the United States of America that portion of the loan would be used for the pavement of Buchanan–Cestos City–Greenville Barclayville Road Project, the Barclayville–Sasstown Road Project, the Barclayville–Pleebo Road Project, the Medina-Robertsport Road Project, the Tubmanburg–Bopolu Road Project and other associated projects.

He further disclosed that about 503km of roads would be constructed in addition to five football stadiums. This gives per km cost of US$1.066 million per km of road, which is around the same cost as Ganta-Red-Light, which was US$1 million per km road.

Details of the MOU signed with Eton remains sticky. The Government of Liberia has been extremely protective over the content of the agreement. To date it’s yet to be made public.

Recently, Mr. Alexander Cummings, political leader of the opposition Alternative National Congress (ANC) said concealing the details of the loan, no matter how good it’s purpose may be, depicts lack of transparency on the part of government.

“We are owed as a people what the terms of the loan are, what is the collateral, what fees are being paid to whom? We need that transparency?” Cummings said.

The borrowing of the US$536 million comes at the edge of a stern warning by the International Monetary Fund. Upon the departure of an IMF delegation from Liberia late March, the delegation cautioned, “Debt levels have been rising steadily in recent years. While the risk of debt distress remains moderate, borrowing space has clearly been reduced over time.”

“Looking forward, future obligations will need to be undertaken with caution, specifically with respect to securing favorable terms and conditions.”

Concerns are also growing over how Liberia would repay such a loan in addition to existing loans from the conventional World Bank and International Monetary Fund. What is the debt and what would be the priority of repayment in relations to existing IMF, World Bank and other Loans on Liberia’s books?

Mismanagement of the Asian loan could land Liberia into deeper waters as it remains unclear how the government intends to repay the amount. Fears are also that any amount generated could go directly back to Eton.

A FrontPageAfrica’s investigation found that unlike loans borrowed from the traditional IMF, World Bank and other international stakeholders, the loan from the Asian conglomerate is unforgiveable, meaning that it must be paid back and comes with a lot of risks.

Liberia has a long history of mismanagement of funds acquired through debt financing. Since 1847, history is replete with instances of mismanagement of funds raised through debt financing. Liberians are concerned whether the debt if finally obtained would be used for its intended purposes.

But these analysis have been overlooked by the Finance Minister who argues that “the US$536M loan is highly concessional: Seven year grace period, no accrued interest and no interest payment during the grace period.  Using the IMF Grant Element Calculator shows a grant element of 35 percent, which means about 35 percent of the loan can be considered a grant.

But grant element is higher than 35 percent because the IMF calculator assumes interest payments during the 7-year grace period. No interests are paid during the grace period under the terms of US$536M.”

“Contrary to what has been reported in the media, this loan does not compromise Liberia’s debt sustainability. As a matter of fact, Liberia does not presently have an IMF program and is planning on entering a new program,” the Minister said.

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