Unmasking Liberia’s Road Connectivity Facts Current & Past Gov’t intervention –  An Independent Expert Opinion (Part I)

By Mr. Boniface D. Satu, MBA, MS, BBA, BSA, AA                                                         

Mr. Boniface D. Satu, The Author

In retrospect of Liberia’s current road asset infrastructure, our national road network is considered sufficient in terms of coverage. Our road networks cover every part of our country from a geographic point of view. During President  Ellen Johnson Sirleaf government the first Nationwide Road Condition Survey (RCS) was conducted May 2016 by World Bank post war financed by the Liberia Reconstruction Trust Fund (LRTF) member countries and partners including the European Commission, Republic of Ireland, Federal Republic of Germany / Kreditansalt fur Wiederaufbau (KFW), Swedish Internal Development Agency (SIDA), Norwegian, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and the United Kingdom Department for International Development (DFID).

The Findings revealed that our Network comprises 11,423 kilometres of road sufficient to cover the entire country, but the quality has been a major concern. Prior to this report there was never a detailed report perform on the road network posing serious challenge for effective road asset management. The report also revealed that more than 90% of the 565km which is 6% of network are paved roads in good or fair condition. At the same time 60% of unpaved which is 95% of network were in poor or very poor condition. These figure compare less favourably with our neighbours (RCS 2016). Example 48% tertiary roads in Sierra Leone and 41% Cote d’ Ivoire are in poor conditions. The average in sub-Saharan Africa is 43% (RCS 2016)

Additionally, under the current government of President, Dr. George M. Weah the Ministry of Public Works conducted the second Nationwide Road Condition Survey financed by the National Road Fund of Liberia in 2019. The findings revealed that Liberia road network increased by 1,591km or 12% resulting to 13,020km National Road Network. The 2019 survey finding revealed out of the 13,020km Road Network 2,323.41km are Non-Urban Primary or Trunk roads which 18% of the national road network and 7% or 734m are paved as at 2019. The Non-Urban Secondary roads is about 2,599.69 km is 19% of the national road network, less than %1 or 73.32.94km paved. Non-Urban Feeder roads is 7,530.21km which is 57% of the national road network and less than 1% paved. The total Urban Roads of community roads is 565km which is 4% of the National road network and 1% paved. 93% of the national network is unpaved.

Government is Continuity: Our opinion is based on comparative analysis focuses on kilometres of paved roads and economic impact of the road on the economy. As per the below table on road infrastructure interventions by both Current and Past government, I can safely state from research using the following sources: The Spartal Analysis of Liberia’s Transport Connectivity and Potential Growth Report, World Bank, Nationwide Road Condition Survey 2019 (RCS) conducted by Ministry of Public Works finance by the National road Fund of Liberia, State of the Nation

Report prepared by Ministry of Public and reports prepared by the National Road Fund of Liberia and Ministry of Public Works. When measuring which government Past and Present Road connectivity intervention achieved the most impactful outcome or results in the road infrastructure argument, my analysis is drawn on three premise, (1) Paved roads – how many kilometres of road done on the 13,020km road network considering road type (Primary, Secondary, Feeder/Community, Maintenance Routine /Periodic). According to statistics (Table 1 Road Condition Survey 2019

7 May 2016), (2) Economic Impact – How did the road intervention reduce poverty (urban / rural) and rural accessibility to support economic development and human well-being, with a focus on affordable and equitable access for all and (3) Strategic goals on road financing (Leveraging National Road Fund).

Paved Roads Completed

According to our analysis President Ellen J. Sirleaf Administration paved a total of 734 km of Non-Urban Primary Roads which is approximately 6% of the national road network of 13,020km (RUC 2019). The total Non-Urban primary road network is 12,453 or 95% of the road network. The Urban Primary Road paved by President M. Weah administration is 318km or 2% of the current network. Most of the paved Primary Road were well maintained including Gabriel Tucker Bridge through the boarder Bo Water Side -. The Current administration has approximately 201km On-going Urban primary paved road works and when completed he would have paved 519.4 km or 22% of the Urban Primary Road and 4% of the entire road network.

When we considered Urban Secondary Roads President Weah Administration did not do much or any intervention of the network 2,299km. Same with the Urban Feeder roads of 7530 km.

Most inventions (maintenance and rehabilitation works) on urban feeder roads were done by our international partners and government of Liberia using community based organization Swedish Feeder Roads Project (LSFRP-III) and USAID mainly on laterite and rehabilitation routine and periodic maintenance.

Most primary roads are financed by our International Partners (World Bank, African Development Bank, JICA, Ecowas Bank, others. Almost all secondary and feeder roads are financed by the National Road Fund of Liberia. The NRF and government of Liberia financed most rehabilitation and routine and periodic maintenance works.

Cumulatively, the Past administration completed more paved road on the Non-Urban-Primary roads 734km or 6% of the 13, 020 km of the road network in 12 years. The Current government completed a total paved road totalling 423.4km or 5% of the entire national road network in 5 plus years.

When we consider the Current Administration On-going pavement works of 434 km the current government would have done more pavement then the Past Administration. They would have achieved 1,175km resulting or 9% of the entire network (13,020km) paved in 5 plus years; while previous government paved 6% or 734km of the national road network in 12 years or more. The Weah’s government carryout more intervention on Urban Roads or Community roads benefiting more urban dwellers making less impact on poverty reduction on rural dwellers. On the other hand, the previous administration focus mainly on Non-Urban Primary roads invention connecting to rural communities and benefiting over 328,211 rural dwellers and absolutely reduce poverty, declined from 54.1 in 2014 (LISGIS 2017).

For instance, the Monrovia – Guinea boarder corridor passes through three counties (Monsterrado, Margibi, Bong and Nimba) and the Monrovia – Buchanan corridor (Montserrado Margibi and Bassa Counties) …….

I had the opportunity to work at the Ministry of Public Works under the two administrations. I recognized the colossal task the Ellen Sirleaf administration had, importantly a country that experienced its entire infrastructure ruined from the war. The past administration did a great job to established a strategic road sector framework that attracted International donor’s participation which lay the foundation for all the road infrastructure inventions in the country. Also, President Weah’s government was robust and dynamic in implementation accrediting them for their selfless effort in constructing more roads for the 5 plus years “Share Efforts”. Our National Road Network paved roads move from 6% to approximately 10% and road condition has slightly improved, even though the challenges is still huge especially in the south-eastern corridor and other non-urban primary, secondary and feeder roads.

Economic Impact:                                     

Domestic Connectivity: According to the (WB RUC May 2016), due to the Past Government road improvement invention of Primary Roads (Monrovia – Ganta corridor) and the (Monrovia – Buchannan corridor) help to significantly increased rural Access Index (RAI), because these primary roads pass through rural communities. Considering these roads were impassable in poor conditions before the intervention many rural dwellers benefited approximately 400,000 and 328,000 were rural people.

Access to markets and basic social services is a key element of poverty and poverty is untiringly high where rural accessibility is low. According to Household Income and Expenditure Survey (RUC May 2016), “the absolute poverty rate declined from 54.1% in 2014 to (LISGIS 2017). While urban poverty decline from 43 percent to 32%, rural poverty slightly increased from 70% t0 72%. Monrovia has a low poverty rate of 20.3%, but poverty is more prevalent in inland areas, especially southern eastern region”.  Physical access persons living in Liberia’s rural communities face far greater obstacles in obtaining wealth, health, education and other social services. In addition, they remain at an economic disadvantage.

The Secondary road invention also made significant economic impact considering the construction of individual new homes, improve urban mobility stores and access to goods & services in the urban community. The urban community enjoy reduction in travel time for goods and services. But did not impact poverty reduction significantly compare to primary road intervention.

Road Financing:

In consideration of the financial requirement to improve our overall road infrastructure network the main financier could be taxpayers, public private partnership (PPP), road user charges and concessionaires. The fiscal space of the government is limited.  Concessionaires are a major and heavy user in the country and they contribute approximately 100 million or 6-10% of GDP every year. Collaboration with concessionaires could provide additional investment to construct our roads. Approximately 40% of our land area is current devoted to extractive concessionaires.  The national government budget could provide appropriation annually as a capital investment into the road sector. We could partnership with the private sector by enacting laws with a strengthened transport infrastructure policy.

A significant investment approximately US3.4 billion is required to rehabilitate and maintain the existing road network in Liberia (Spatial Analysis 2016) creating universal rural access; Improving and maintaining the primary road network at the same time creating rural access. Assuming that a simple average road rehabilitation costs is at 1million per kilometre for paved roads and US$75,000 for gravel road (Spatial Analysis 2016).

In consideration of the passage of the National Road Fund Act of December 12, 2016 passed by the National Legislature signed into law by the Ellen Johnson Sirleaf administration with the objectives of sourcing adequate financing for road maintenance, bridge works, road rehabilitation and road construction through loans, road user’s charges, grants, direct support from government and international partners. In May 2018, President George M. Weah administration fully operationalized the administration and management of the fund which is now a beacon of hope for the road sector “enviable institution” thanks to Mr. Boniface D. Satu, the first Chief Executive Officer who exercise extraordinary leadership navigating a bureaucratic terrane in achieving this noble task for the country.

The country can now boast of a credible financial institution that can be leverage to attract the needed investment to finance our road infrastructure. Both government and international partners can share in the success of the road fund establishment. Since its inception, the National Road Fund has been supported from fuel levies estimated in the National Budget and collected by the Liberia Revenue Authority (LRA). In the last five (5) years, collections by the LRA has amounts to $108 million and remittances to the National Road Fund in the same periods is $84 million

For instance, the World Bank piloted the PPP by leveraging the National Road Fund. The South-eastern Corridor Road Asset Management Project (SECRAMP) was co-financed by a $24 million Liberia Reconstruction Trust Fund (LRTF) grant contribution from the European Union (EU), United Kingdom (DfID) and Germany (KfW). Recently, KfW and DfID provided additional grants of $16 million and $6 million respectively. The Government of Liberia should have available $24 million through the National Road Fund. “The project, the first of its kind in IDA’s portfolio, deploys a combination of IDA Credit, IDA Guarantees, and Grant resources to leverage private financing for a road Public Private Partnership (PPP) in an affordable and fiscally sustainable manner,” said Co-Task Team Leaders Kulwinder Singh Rao and Satheesh Kumar Sundararajan. The PPP was later restructured due to CoVID-19 when the government of Liberia and the National Road Fund participated with the World Bank and other development partners.

Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) tested the Matching Funds in the amount of 15 million but the government didn’t meet the conditional precedent due to funds transfer delays to participate in this investment program that could have netted 30million in our economy. The German government also provided matching funds which was managed successfully on routine maintenance. the Liberian Swedish Feeder Roads Project (LSFRP-III) provided matching funds with Community Based Organization (CBO).

For instance, if you leverage the Road Fund annual revenue as cash collateral you could borrow up to 500, 000,000 million focusing on the Non-Urban Primary roads in South-Eastern corridor and Bomi , Gbarpolu, Lofa, Rivercess, Sinoe to Grand Kru counties corridors. Continue to maintain the already good roads in the national road network. Once this invention is carryout Liberia will see integration of rural and urban migration creating huge economic and social impact. All that is require is the Political Will from the executive and legislative branch and the human capacity to implement this ambitious goal. The NRF is already setup to achieve this goal.

The current Road Fund Amendment Bill been debated in the Lower House will capacitate the NRF to source funding, mitigate fund flow risk and allow matching funds and international financial institutions to lend money for our road infrastructure. This is not a “political football” but in the best interest of the country.

Government established the Roads Fund, Roads Fund Board and Road Agencies to improve on Road Financing and Management of Roads. Most African countries started with 1st generation meaning under control of government, today, almost all road funds are second generation 100 % autonomous less interference. In fact, Liberia was able to established the Road Fund 1st generation (government), but GOL stop short of the Road Agency which gives appetite to donors to participate in PPP, matching funds, cost recovery etc.

Today, donors are not encouraged until GOL do those things that provide sustainability, transparency and accountability in the road sector. The Amendment will address some of those issue and our international partners fully support this amendment. Currently, the World Bank has an approved project ” Road Sector Development Project” working with NRF and MPW on reforms Road Agency and autonomous National Road Fund.

ROAD FUND IN AFRICA are all autonomous (Sierra Leone, Ghana etc.) they are moving fast with road development “INDEPENDENT”. • WEST AFRICA (12 countries) BENIN, BURKINA FASO, GHANA, IVORY COAST, CAPE VERDE, NIGER GUINEE, SENEGAL, TOGO MALI, BISSAU GUINEE, SIERA LEONE

• CENTRAL AFRICA (7 countries) BURUNDI DEM. REP. CONGO CHAD RCA CONGO GABON CAMEROON • EASTERN AFRICA (8 countries) KENYA TANZANIA RWANDA UGANDA ETHIOPIA ZANZIBAR DJIBOUTI COMORES • SOUTHERN AFRICA (7 countries) MOZAMBIQUE MADAGASCAR NAMIBIA ZAMBIA ZIMBABWE MALAWI LESOTHO

International Collaboration-The NRF has membership with two international body namely, African Road Fund Maintenance Association (ARFMA) consisting of 34 countries, 9 of which are in West, East and Central Africa; and the International Road Federation based in the United States of America with 113 countries worldwide.

The NRF Conducted a Research & Development Study on Potential Revenue Mobilization, the study identified approx. USD 20million as additional revenue to the current fuel levy of 0.25cent approximately USD 25million per year totaling USD45 million per annual.

Road Type: Primary Roads

About the author: The author has over 26 years of professional experience with over 7 years of direct experience in the road sector as Deputy Chief of Party USAID Feeder Road Alternative Maintenance Project focusing on capacity building in road maintenance, road cost recovery and alternative low volume seal surfacing; Road Financing, First Chief Executive Officer National Road Fund, R.L., Project Coordinator experienced in public sector Economic Governance and Institutional Reforms with the World Bank and Technical Support Consultant, NAFAA & WARP. National Consultant Health Sector Reforms WHO, Experience working with various stakeholders in the road sector (donors, contractors, Legislatures, SOE’s and MAC’s). The author has membership with two international body namely, African Road Fund Maintenance Association (ARFMA) consisting of 34 countries, 9 of which are in West, East and Central Africa; and the International Road Federation based in the United States of America with 113 countries worldwide. The author has a Executive Certificate in Road Assets Management from TOWNROADS Tanzania. Several Regional Road Seminars and national and international sector Lesson Learned.

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