Analysis by Varney Kamara
MONROVIA – As demand for infrastructure development in post-war Liberia becomes a compelling narrative, coupled with a global push for cleaner energy against greenhouse emission, the need for modern road sector reform has become a demanding necessity.
Liberia, Africa’s oldest independent Black Republic, officially ended one of the continent’s bloodiest civil wars in August 2003 after the signing of the Accra Peace Agreement among warring parties. Due to the lack of a functioning centralized government, most of the country’s road networks were abandoned and as such left in deplorable condition during the war period.
A report released by the World Bank in 2017(Spatial Analysis of Liberia’s Transportation Connectivity and Growth) showed only six percent of the country’s roads are currently paved, leaving most of them in extremely terrible conditions. However, with the creation of the NRF Act of December 2016 and subsequent operationalization of the National Road Fund in 2018 by the President, Dr. George M. Weah led government some improvement has been made by increasing the number of pave road to approximately 9% a 3% growth (MPW Road Condition Survey 2019).
By the close of the war era, road construction and rehabilitation have repeatedly topped the agenda of succeeding governments in the country’s reconstruction drive.
President George Weah, taking the oath of office in January 2018, promised his Coalition for Democratic Change (CDC) government would connect all road networks in the country before turning over power to his countrymen. Analysis show his comments were in large part a broader sectorial reform drive which has been long- kept in the pipeline before ascending to the Presidency.
In the past, studies showed strong support for the amendment of existing policies frameworks and laws reflecting rapid infrastructure construction and modernization, including raising millions of dollars in revenue to connect more than 13,000 square kilometer of roads network in the country.
Liberia needs nearly US$4 billion to pave and connect all its road networks to the Capital, Monrovia – an ambitious goal that must harness the collective efforts of both local and international actors. This big dream, when backed by the necessary reform and cash, would guarantee a boost in domestic trade, enhance infrastructure development, as well as integrate and promote social cohesion and economic viability among the population.
In December 2016, the Liberian legislature took a giant step by enacting the National Road Fund Act which gave birth to the National Road Fund Office (NRFO). Among other things, the NRFO is responsible to finance, manage and oversee road construction and rehabilitation projects across the country, including maintaining and building bridges.
While we commend this step as the beginning of a million mile journey, it is also important to note here that further steps need to be taken by the legislature to achieve the overall effect and intent of the law. Judging from the results seen in other African countries, Liberia stands to benefit immensely if it puts in place the necessary mechanisms required to achieve its infrastructure needs.
Already, through the securing of millions of dollars of loans from local and international banks, coupled with donor support, the NRF has overseen the positive outcome of a series of road projects in the country. These include the Clara Town community road, Pipeline road, the Gbarnga-Ganta highway, Ganta-Sannequillie highway, among others. However, the agency would have achieved more, if further steps are taken to ensure long term sustainability.
To this end, NRF must be given a freehand that would ensure greater transparency and accountability, including its capacity to generate revenues in a robust and speedy manner. Granting the NRF autonomy is the surest way to guarantee this path, especially a country that desperately needs good roads to speed up rapid infrastructure development.
Liberia, a tiny West African nation, needs to step up its development game one step further. Like most countries in Sud-Saharan Africa (SSA), it needs to give its road fund management body a tough tooth to break development barriers.
In July last year, Margibi County District 1 Representative Tebarolsa Tarponweh proposed and submitted a bill seeking the repeal the current road fund act. In the new legislation, the lawmaker argues the new amendment would ensure total independence for the NRF, a recipe for improved transparency and accountability while guaranteeing protection and total control over revenues generated for road construction and rehabilitation.
We totally hail his effort. Representative Tarponweh’s initiative, blended with calls for the legislature to act on the new law, must be given full attention, void of any interference and or political machinations.
The Liberian House of Representatives must go a step further by amending this law to meet competing infrastructure demands. Liberia, like other countries on the African continent, needs to provide the NRF autonomy to be on par with its counterparts. The legislature must give the NRF the legal perimeter to scout for more financial resources in a form and manner that would demand greater accountability and transparency from the road fund overseers.
Sadly, the country is one of few African states that have not given its national road fund management body full independence. The NRF must be given autonomy to allow it safely moving toward securing secondary road fund like many other African countries are doing now. A total of 34 countries on the continent have moved toward this end. It will not be the first country to do so nor would it be the last. Senegal, Ghana, Sierra Leone, Ivory Coast, Zambia, Kenya, and Tanzania are among countries hitting the chart in this emerging development circle.
Granting road fund management body autonomy is a brilliant idea that has already seen billions of dollars in public sector investments for West, Eastern, and Southern African regions. Senegal, Zambia, Tanzania and Kenyan are all living examples of this rapidly emerging development paradigm. In any case, my humble appeal is that Liberia must not be left by the wayside. Other nations have grown stronger with infrastructure development by formulating better laws, so too must we.
Granting autonomy to the NRF would benefit all Liberians, irrespective of your political, cultural, and religious divide.. In all fairness, it would increase donors’ confidence, lift the country’s transparency and accountability profile, as well as providing the space for capacity building, and innovation. Efforts to give the NRF autonomy must never be undermined or politicized.
This clarion call is coming at a crucial time when technological advancement is gradually driving away the attention of the global community from the consumption of fossil fuel which has heightened the negative impacts of climate change on our society for decades.
Therefore, I urge you (legislators) to act prudently and let posterity judge you for being on the positive side of history.