Monrovia — Ruth Coker Collins has always been in denial. Even when motorists plying the busy ELWA-Robertsfield highway complained about the dilapidated conditions of the road, the Minister of Public Works had an answer.
Appearing on a local radio talk-show in August, Minister Collins attributed the slow pace of the project to Climate Change, characterized by heavy downpours, thus making it difficult for engineers to work.
The minister’s response came amid multiple speculations that the project had stalled due to funding challenges and mismanagement.
All that changed this week when the minister informed members of the Senate Committee on Public Works that East International, the company doing construction work on the Roberts International highway, had obvious frailties and was technically incapable to do the work in line with the contract.
The committee, chaired by Senator Edwin Melvin Snowe (IND-Bomi County), was keen to know why the project which started with so much promise was now wandering in a state of abandonment and becoming a serious hazard for motorists, now dubbing the highway a “deathtrap”.
Skeptics have always had issues with East International’s qualification and ability to carry out such a major road project. Things got even murkier when motorists began riding into open ditches and putting their lives at risk.
On Monday, Minister Collins apparently was left with no alternative but to acknowledge what Liberian motorists already knew: the road was indeed a death trap.
The minister went as far to tell the Senate committee that East International lacks the technical and financial capability to do the road within the 36 months required by the contract and called on the Senate to review the contract.
East also faced issues regarding its capacity to fund the project. Many were concerned that the awarding of such a huge contract to reconstruct the busy Monrovia/RIA road without having the capital to begin with was a stumbling block from the start.
On the flipside, the government awarded the contract to East Construction Company even as it faced criticisms over the contracting company’s ability to properly implement the multimillion dollars’ project, especially with the company already had a tainted performance record.
Additionally, questions also lingered over the inability of the company to attain the right machinery, equipment and funding to carry out the project.
FrontPageAfrica had previously reported that the company had failed to perform on a number of projects, including a pre-financing agreement with the government in 2017 to pave 30 feeder roads as part of the Feeder Road Project across Liberia. To date, several feeder roads projects contracted to East Construction Company still remain uncompleted.
The East International Construction Company is said to be a joint venture of Liberians and Chinese, but the company has maneuvered its way in getting large contracts because of its contacts with senior officials at the Ministry of Public Works.
The road dilemma has prompted many Liberians to go public, expressing concerns over the RIA-Monrovia highway project. With the level of resentment from the public about East International Construction Company, the Ministry of Public Works continues to remain tight-lipped on the issue, which is raising fears that like previous situations. The contract for the expansion and pavement of Liberia’s only international airport road would eventually become a failed one, FrontPage Africa has observed.
Back in February 2020, President George Weah broke grounds for the expansion and pavement of 45km road linking Monrovia to the airport.
The project was implemented through a China-Liberia joint venture with East International Group and China Railways being the contractors, worth about US$95m.
As a result of the awful nature of the road, two people were admitted for treatment at a local hospital after a vehicle belonging to Deputy Transport Minister J. Darious Kollie plunged into a deep ditch along the perilous road few weeks ago.
Amid the criticisms, East International has repeatedly expressed confidence that it was up to the task. Last month, the Plenary of the Liberian Senate cited authorities of the Ministries of Finance and Development Planning, Public Works, Mines, Energy, Natural Resources & Environment as well as the National Road Fund to appear before the to raise issues about East’s credentials.
The lull in the project is also causing problems for businesses on the highway, with many forced to shut down as a result of the “embarrassment” already caused by the poor construction of the road.
For the foreseeable future, it appears the ELWA-RIA highway completion will have to be delayed until after next October Presidential elections, unless the Weah administration can pull some strings to get the road back on track.
What remains uncertain is whether international stakeholders will heed the minister’s call for a dialogue aiming for a possible review of the contract, which has the potential of putting President Weah’s re-election in jeopardy.