By Media Hub Liberia
During his inauguration as President of Liberia in January, 2018, Dr. George Manneh Weah declared that Liberians would not be spectators to the Country’s economy. This implies that Liberian citizens would have the opportunity to participate or engage in business ventures from which they would earn a living, create jobs and ultimately contribute to growth of the economy by paying their taxes and other lawful levies which would be used to develop the Country.
To achieve the milestone, the President pronounced that the Government would focus on efforts to build and rehabilitate public infrastructures such as roads. This is why in the national development plan for Liberia dubbed: Pro-poor Agenda for Prosperity and Development (PAPD), the administration seeks to avert weak domestic contracting and consulting industry which lack technical capacity; inadequate materials testing facilities; negligible road maintenance interventions; and unpredictable weather due to global climatic change, low Government funding and investment in the road sector as well as the lack of human capacity in the infrastructure sector which have impeded progress to intervene in road and bridge works in Liberia.
With the urge on the part of the Government to help improve the living conditions of Liberians, it has projected in the PAPD that by 2023 it would reduce infrastructure deficits by expanding the Country’s road network to help ease the cost of transport and doing business in the Country. Also, the administration foresees that the road expansion would support decent employment opportunities, and transform the living conditions of the poor and the vulnerable.
To this end, already, a mechanism to regulate the use of the Country’s road network which is expected to be expanded under the PAPD was passed into Law as the National Road Fund of Liberia in December 2016.
Accordingly, the Law empowers the Fund to finance the maintenance of roads and bridges; raise capital through Government-approved appropriations, Government-arranged grants, and loans and levy road user charges; put in place administrative structures to collect; manage and disburse funds to and on behalf of road and bridge work agencies in Liberia. Similarly, the Law obliges the Fund to ensure proper governance and oversight of monies to the extent of giving approbations to annual road maintenance expenditure programs which road and bridge work agencies would submit.
In pursuit of its obligation to approve annual road maintenance expenditure programs, the National Road Fund of Liberia has assembled a technical working group in Buchanan, Grand Bassa County to finalize the 2019/2020 Annual Road Maintenance Expenditure Program (ARMEP), and to develop a procedural disbursement manual/MoU for the National Road Fund.
Key technicians participating in the weeklong session are drawn from the Ministries of Public Works, Transport, Commerce & Industry, Finance & Development Planning, Internal Affairs and Information Culture & Tourism as well as the Public Procurement and Concession Commission.
Also attending the technical meeting are representatives of the World Bank (WB), Millennium Challenge Account-Liberia (MCA-L), Deutsche Gesellscaft Fur InternationaleZusammenarbeit GIZ, European Union (EU), African Development Bank (AfDB) and the United States Aid for International Development (USAID).
Liberia’s Road Fund is a replica of Tanzania, Uganda, Namibia and Ghana – all of which reaps loftily from the mechanisms. The progress recorded by the young Liberia Fund in a short period of time, partly prompted the African Road Maintenance Funds Association (ARMFA) to enroll the National Road Fund of Liberia as its newest member having been established in 2003 in Libreville, Gabon with a membership 34 Countries including Liberia.
The ARMFA is a platform for sharing experiences in road maintenance and safety practices, and an important network among African Road Managers and several stakeholders that work on infrastructural development, maintenance and safety across the continent. As a result of the enrolment, the National Road Fund of Liberia now benefits from older Funds’ lesson-learned during their formative days, shares knowledge and technological improvements in road maintenance while the ARMFA designs a uniform system on how road fund managements must function on the Continent.
For purposes of check and balance as well as oversight, the Law requires an Inter-Ministerial Steering Committee which is being chaired by the Minister of Public Works, and has the Ministers of Finance & Development Planning, Commerce & Industry, Internal Affairs, and Transport as members.
This set of objectives and control measures in place, the Fund moved into action in 2017 with focus on setting up and, recruiting personnel including a Fund Manager and other technical staff to steer daily work and in May 2018 formally opened its offices with an array of national and international stakeholders and partners announcing collaboration and support.
In an exclusive interview early this year, a highly placed source at the GIZ thought the structures that were being put in place at the NRF were likely to significantly lead to Liberia having sustainable and long-lasting roads and admonished road users to follow the rules and regulations on road usage. In the same view, the GIZ official suggested the need for transparency of internal processes to award road work contracts mainly to Liberian companies.
So, as important as the good impression of the Fund is among donors, so was it to hear from its lead administrator about how forthcoming the development partners have been with their support. According to Road Fund Manager Boniface Satu, there exist a terrific relationship, collaboration and partnership with the National Road Fund of Liberia, the Government, stakeholders and donors. For example, he said USAID would refurbish the National Road Fund’s offices and provide logistical support including vehicles once they have been relocated from the Ministry of Finance & Development Planning building.
Like the USAID, the World Bank has been on board with unwavering support and strategic partnership with the Fund. Recently, the Bank provided US$250,000 of the US$500,000 it had committed to aid in the digitization of the entire financial system of the Fund to ensure transparency. As a result of the provision, the Fund has recruited the Enterprise Resources Planning, an international firm to automate or digitize its books.
Similarly, the African Development Bank (AfDB) remains supportive of the National Road Fund of Liberia. The AfDB has committed to provide over US$200,000 to enable the Fund upturn its institutional support and capacity-building. This disbursement will add to the mammoth assistance the Bank has delivered to the Ministry of Public Works which, from the onset, contributed to the resources used to set up the National Road Fund Office and purchase furniture, equipment and vehicles.
The issue of integrity, honesty and transparency is as paramount as the support that triggers in from donors and even through Government’s budgetary support. At a reception hosted by the Millennium Challenge Account-Liberia and Millennium Challenge Corporation weeks ago, Finance & Development Planning Minister Samuel Tweah assured development partners and donors that the Government remains committed to ensuring the National Road Fund maintains its integrity and guaranteed that road maintenance fees collected by the Liberia Revenue Authority, Liberia Petroleum Refining Company and other authorized collectors would go toward adequately financing the rehabilitation of roads and bridges throughout the Country.
In fulfillment of this, to date, the Government ensures that funds collected from fuel levies consistently flow into the National Road Fund Escrow Account at the Central Bank of Liberia (CBL) even though amid challenges associated with slow business transactions which the Finance Minister alleviated when he reached a Memorandum of Understanding with the CBL to ensure the funds were “Ring-Fenced” and transferred automatically daily without interference.
The milestone on the part of the Government, the National Road Fund management considers a move that demonstrates the administration’s reassurance to stakeholders that it would ensure the process of sustainability of the national road network of Liberia.
Currently, the National Road Fund has provided US$4 million to the Ministry of Public Works to rehabilitate roads in Grand Kru, Sinoe and Gbarpolu Counties with the durable chip-seal pavement and to rebuild bridges on the Monrovia-Buchanan highway including damaged bridge along the Roberts International Airport thoroughfare.
In the same line, the Fund has given cash to implement a public road safety program being carried out by the Ministry of Transport, and funding to conduct a Nationwide Road Conditional Survey, and eyes the possibility to increase its revenue intake by instituting the additional road user charges outlined in the National Road Fund Act December 2016.
To that effect, the National Road Fund contracted the American Procurement Services Corporation to provide technical support. In this role, the APS determined additional road user charging system not listed in the NRF Act that is applicable to Liberia; designed methods and procedures that are economically and legally acceptable for collecting applicable charging system. It also ensured that the recommended charging system are economically profitable for the NRF; and ensured that the recommended charging systems are economically, socially and legally acceptable to road users.
In compliance with the Law, National Road Fund of Liberia must charge vehicles plying the roads based on each automobile’s mass, length, width, height, loading, axle and distance. Also, the national road user regulator must install tolls at different points of the roads or bridges; impose fees on foreign vehicles entering Liberia; charge registration and license fees on vehicles and drivers; and levy petroleum products imported to Liberia. All this would generate financial resources to fund the construction and maintenance of roads and bridges; create new jobs; and help to boost Government’s revenue flow.