Looking Inside Public Works And Why It Needs Strong Budgetary Support

Photo Credit: MPW Public Affairs
Written by: Paul M. Kanneh
Fifteen months ago, many people including myself, termed activities at the Ministry of Public Works as a complete “mess” I even remembered how the public through radio talk-shows blamed the President for the situation at the Ministry on grounds that she (Madam Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf) appointed an “Engineer Minister with no practical knowledge and experience” 
The Legislature, perhaps out of frustration cited Liberia’s first female Public Works Minster more than 3 times to give reason why the once robust Ministry was very dormant under her administration. Political lashes against the Ministry yea the government came from every quarter of the Liberia society with many of them referring to the Ministry as a “caricature ministry”. 
Activities at the Ministry were characterized by huge controversies, something which led to the removal of several key personnel including two principal deputies and one Assistant Minister. What made the situation even more devastating was the feet dragging attitude reportedly exhibited by key donors, whom perhaps knew that in the midst of such unprecedented controversies, it would have been risky to do business with the Ministry. 
By then, Liberians had lost confidence in the Ministry they once bragged about. This situation caught the attention of many, including the donor community—with some even reportedly vowing that they will not easily do business with the former administration.
Perhaps due to pressure from the Public, the internationally acclaimed female President finally removed Dr. Antoinette Weeks on November 19, 2014 and subsequently replaced her with 37- year old William Gyude Moore.
The removal of Dr. Weeks was greeted with praises from the general public. But what they could not comprehend was the decision by Africa’s First Female President to appoint what they termed as a “young and inexperienced” Gyude Moore as Minister of Public Works.
“He is too young and inexperienced for the job. Besides, he was just a head of a unit in the President’s office. He had never been to an engineering school nor had he worked with any construction company”, they argued and wonder ‘how can he handle the infrastructure development of the country when a professional engineer had failed miserably.’  
During his appointment along with several others, the President said she needs a team that is adaptable, responsive, disciplined, loyal, and focused; a team she said, that understands the prevailing challenges, and are resolved to respond by taking appropriate risks to get things done on time.
While many doubted the young Minister’s ability to perform, there were others who believed then that, as former head of the Program Delivery Unit (PDU) at the Ministry of State for Presidential Affairs, Hon. William Gyude Moore may be well versed with the President’s infrastructure vision amidst the devastating effects of the Ebola virus.
More besides, as head of the President’s Program Unit, his supporters also believe that Public Works may not be a strange place for him, because from time to time, he liaised with the Ministry on infrastructure matter, attending meetings and discussing budgetary appropriation for the country’s infrastructure.  
Appearing before the Senate Committee on Public Works for confirmation in December 2014, the new Public Works Minister said quality works, value for money and supervision will be the hallmark of his leadership at the Ministry.  
He told members of the confirmation board that when confirmed, one of the first things his administration intends to do is to provide adequate support to resident engineers to be independent of the contractor for proper monitoring and supervision.  
At the same time, he said, his administration will review contract awarding period for appropriate adjustment to allow the Ministry to award contract during the rainy season for early commencement of construction works in the dry season. 
Like Minister like Deputy, Minister Moore’s Deputy, Roland Lafayette Giddings, also a young man promised to adhere to the already complex and time consuming government’s procurement process.
Apparently aware of resource constraint, Minister Moore stressed the need for more support, adding that he intends to lobby with partners in procuring needed resources to be able to carry out infrastructure works. 
Among several ongoing road construction works, the young Minister told the Senate Committee on Public Works that his first priority will be to start maintenance works on the corridor linking Freeport to Monrovia, Freeport to Paynesville, pavement of Ganta-Yekepa road in Nimba County and the road corridor linking Rivercee-Sinoe County.    
He indicated that as part of his reform agenda, it will be prudent for government to move away from laterite road to asphalt road, noting that laterite roads are expensive to build because it requires regular maintenance interventions. 
But contrary to the many doubts, the 37 years old Minister had since proven himself, with many people now terming his administration more preferable than the administration of his predecessor who they claimed came to the table with “big engineering degree without experience”. 
It has been five months now since Gyude Moore took office and this writer has been following activities at the ministry and now reports. 
Just one month in his tenure, the administration of Minister Moore restored the lost image of the Ministry. Observers termed the rapid manner in which he and his team put things under control at the Ministry as a sound and mature leadership practice. 
A Ministry once considered controversial is now a conducive place to work. There is total peace and harmony among the workforce. Unlike others, Liberia’s youngest Public Works Minister maintained all of the staff he met at the Ministry. In addition, he also promoted several other staff to trusted positions like Procurement Director, Financial Comptroller, suggesting that he has nothing to hide. 
Just as he promised during his confirmation, work on the Somalia Drive is now in progress. His administration has ever since intervened on the Freeport to Vai town corridor. The contract for the pavement of Ganta-Yekepa road has been signed and the verification of affected structure along said corridor has been completed awaiting payment. 
Also on December 22, 2014, the Government of Liberia represented by Hon. Moore signed a 42.7 million United States Dollars agreement with a Chinese Company to pave a 50km kilometer road from Harper to Karloken, and at the same time recondition the remaining stretch of the road to Rivergee County. 
It may interest you to know that, there is an intensive earthwork currently taking place on the Rivercess-Greenville road. Eyewitnesses and travellers believe that rehabilitation work on that corridor will be over by June 15, 2015. 
Having been dormant for several months, the Donor Aid Coordination Unit at the Ministry is once more back on its feet.
In a friendly conversation, an official of the Aid Coordination office disclosed how his office has been busy meeting with various donors who are interested in infrastructure program. He told me that there is willingness on the part of the donor community to strengthen their relationship with the Ministry as was the case in 2011/2012. 
“I think from what I see, the donors are once more willing to commit their resources to the Ministry like they did in 2011/2012”, he said as we parted company. 
One of the greatest and people driven interventions the administration of Hon. Moore has made was, to have embarked on the immediate rehabilitation of 20.05 kilometer of 13 neighborhood roads in Monrovia and its environs. 
Some of the neighborhood roads were almost impassable to vehicular movement. Residents there hardly left their communities for central Monrovia during the rainy season via vehicle. An insider told me that there is an ongoing in-house preparation to begin the pavement of the Gardnersville-Kabbah road.  
The neighborhood roads include but may not be limited to, Chocolate city, New Georgia, Kesselley Boulevard, St. Michael and Snow Hill Roads. Others are, Manatemba, Police Academy, Duport Road-Cow Field, Thinkers Village Guest House and Moses blah Soul Clinic-Parker Paint Road. 
Notwithstanding these physical interventions, the administration of Hon. William Gyude Moore is also keen on the humanitarian aspect of the job. Four months into his leadership, the Ministry represented by its Assistant Minister for Administration paid what some employees described as unprecedented welfare visit to some of its sick employees. 
Making a presentation of assorted items on behalf of the Ministry including toiletries, juices and sanitation materials,
Assistant Minister Ousman A. Kamara said, the purpose of the visit was to identify with sick employees of the Ministry, most of whom he said, fell ill while in the employ of the Ministry.    
He disclosed that the visit was also aimed at motivating and restoring the lost hope of the more than 15 ailing employees.
He added that as a new administration, they were not just concerned about physical deliverables, but also the wellbeing of employees. 
The MPW Assistant Minister noted that as young people who have taken over the leadership of a very sensitive Ministry, it was necessary to focus on all aspects of the job including what he termed as humanitarian aspect.
He said, without a healthy and active workforce, their objective to deliver on time will not be met. He emphasized that human to human relation is also cardinal to the success of any leadership.  
Responding, one of the sick employees Mohammed Freeman termed the visit as unprecedented, adding that since he and some of his workmates felt sick, this was the first time the Ministry has paid an official visit to them. 
Like Woods like Moore, it is now undisputedly clear that one does not need to have a degree in engineering to become a Public Works Minister. Sound leadership skills, practical programming and supervision skills are also quality attributes required of a Public Works Minister. 
Currently as its stands, Minister Moore if not the only, then he is one of those Cabinet Ministers that is always traveling to the rural ears monitoring and evaluating the application of donor’s monies to infrastructure development. 
This is why I would join other Liberians to call on the National Legislature to give a bigger share of the national budget to the Ministry of Public Works.
The Ministry needs more money than ever to build better roads that will take them (lawmakers) to their respective counties, road that will spur economic and social development in rural Liberia, roads that will encourage the business people to take goods and services to all parts of the country, roads that will encourage investors to move up country to help improve the lives of the people, roads that will facilitate the construction of more schools and health facilities by both the Ministry and relevant agencies.
Infrastructure development remains a major stumbling block to the advancement of our country, to making Liberia a middle income country by 2030, and we as government and people must spend, make the necessary investment to realize our dream. And if any government entity will need more money, then, beyond any niggling, it has to be Public Works.