Liberia is facing numerous challenges including the lack of good infrastructure, a situation that was made complex by the prolong civil wars fought in the country from 1989 to 2003. The country is not linked by roads as major highways become deplorable during the rainy seasons, leaving commuters stranded for days before reaching their final destinations.
Counties in the southeastern region including Maryland, Sinoe, Grand kru, River Gee and others are cut off from the rest of the country during the rainy months and Lofa County also faces similar situation. This makes life difficult for locals who find it impossible to transport their produce to nearby markets. Since 2006, when the Ellen Johnson Sirleaf led government ascended to power, the international community has been very generous in making contributions to the infrastructure sector, mainly construction of roads.
A trust fund known as the Liberia Reconstruction Trust Fund (LRTF), a multi-donor trust fund for infrastructure was set up for Liberia with support from contributions from the European Union, and the governments of Great Britain (DFID), Sweden (Sida), Ireland (Irish Aid), Norway and Germany (KfW) and the World Bank. Administered by the World Bank, the LRFT has raised millions for infrastructural projects in Liberia which has seen the construction of the Monrovia-Buchanan Road and several roads in Monrovia and other parts of the country.
The important Monrovia-Ganta border road is also at the verge of completion. Other roads in Monrovia and environs have been successfully constructed. But in June early this year, a visiting delegation from donors’ countries to the trust fund announced that all the funding raised have been depleted and Liberia will now have to come clear on its needs for the donors to look out for ways to assist. At the time, Inguna Dobraja, Country Manager for the World Bank Liberia Country Office said at the moment all funding in the LRTF have already been committed.
“All the funds in the Liberia Reconstruction Trust Fund have been committed,” said the World Bank Country Manager. With the pronouncement, it means Liberia will have to look for other sources of funding for other essential roads around the country and the Government has been holding discussions with the Kuwaitis for the construction of another important route-Gbarnga-Mendikorma Road.
On Wednesday, the search for donors to support the Gbarnga-Mendikorma Road received a major boost with the visit of a high level delegation from Kuwait. Finance and Development Planning Minister Amara M. Konneh on Wednesday hosted the delegation of Arab investors at the inception of their appraisal mission to Liberia over the proposed financing of the Gbarnga-Mendikorma Highway Construction Project.
The delegation which is expected to tour the road ahead of the signing of various financing agreements later this year, comprises the OPEC Fund for International Development (OFID), the Arab Bank for Economic Development in Africa (BADEA), the Saudi Fund for Development (SFD), the Abu Dhabi Fund for Development (ADFD), and the Kuwait Fund for Arab Economic Development (KFAED). The project, which is US$430 million, will be implemented in two phases, beginning with works on LOT 1, which runs from Gbarnga to Konia. LOT1 is estimated at US$184.7 million dollars.
Speaking to reporters at the inception meeting Wednesday at the Ministry of Finance and Development Planning, Minister Konneh said, “To date, the Ministry of Finance and Development Planning has secured financing commitments, in the tune of US$72 million, from the majority of our lenders, for the financing of LOT 1”.
Minister Konneh explained, “The paving of the road from Gbarnga to Mendikorma, considered Liberia’s agriculture belt, will improve accessibility of roads all year round plus connectivity of roads and bridges between Gbarnga and Mendikorma thus reducing transportation cost both in travel time and money.
He also stressed, “This project will most importantly increase economic activities with emphasis on agribusiness that will ease access to markets. It will also significantly improve access to other social service facilities such as health care centers and schools; support gender development and ultimately reduce poverty,” he noted
The Gbarnga-Konia leg, approximately 137 km in length, is an existing engineered gravel road. Located between Bong and Lofa counties, it begins at the Lofa junction in Gbarnga City, Bong County, and ends at Konia Town, Lofa County. The road runs through the rainforests of Bong and Lofa with growing interest among investors to do large scale commercial farming for production of Rubber, Cocoa, Palm-oil, Timber, Rice, Fruits etc.
The Liberia Finance Minister during the meeting with the Arab delegation said President Ellen Johnson, upon assuming office in 2005, remained focused on an aggressive road agenda seeking to connect major cities and capitals while working to reconstruct derelict urban roads across Monrovia. He said the strategic intervention in the road transport sector is in line with the growth constraints analysis informing the development of the Agenda for Transformation (AfT) – the country’s medium term development plan.
Speaking on behalf of the delegation Mr. Faisal M. Al Kahtani said the Saudi Fund for Development (SFD), the Abu Dhabi Fund for Development (ADFD), and the Kuwait Fund for Arab Economic Development (KFAED) are willing to finance the project and other projects being discussed. He added that Liberia remains a good friend to them and will be helped any time. It can be recalled that President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf visited the Gulf State of Kuwait in June 2010, during which she made an appeal to the Emir of Kuwait for support to the roads program.
That request led to the provision of financing from the Kuwait Fund for Arab Economic Development (KFAED) for a Feasibility Study, an Environmental Impact Assessment Study, a detailed Engineering design and preparation of tender documents for the Gbarnga to Mendikorma road link.
“Today, we are seeing the fruits of that historic visit. Our Arab partners have responded and the Government of Liberia is well on its way to opening one of the forgotten economic corridors that is expected to be a game changer in our quest to transform Liberia through development,” Minister Konneh concluded. While in the country, the Saudi Fund for Development and the Arab Bank for Economic Development in Africa (BADEA) will hold discussions with the Government of Liberia on preparatory works for full rehabilitation of the Runway at the Roberts International Airport.
That project is well advanced, as the Government of Liberia has fully mobilized the needed funding through credits from these two agencies and the European Investment Bank (EIB), to complete the runway. The runway project will constitute a milestone in the RIA’s development, as the runway has not been repaired since 1972. When constructed, the Gbarnga-Mendikorma Road will serve as a major relief and will boost transportation for people from Lofa, a county considered to be one of the food producing counties in Liberia.