By Own Correspondent – Public Works Minister Samuel Kofi Woods has expressed confidence that the reconstruction of the crumbled Vai Town Bridge (popularly known as Old Bridge) would be completed and ready for use on time December this year but has frowned at claims that the restoration of the critical infrastructure is being used as campaign machinery.
‘This bridge is expected to be completed way beyond October 2011 at which time elections will have been over…I cannot comprehend how government is using the completion of the bridge as a campaign strategy…’ Minister Woods is reported to have told West Point residents Monday after he inspected progress of the work on the bridge and a road about to be paved in the densely populated slum community.
The bridge – which connects the “industrial” Bushrod Island with the commercial (Waterside market) and diplomatic (Mamba Point) enclaves as well as West Point and the heart of the Liberian capital collapsed about four years ago, after existing for more than 50 years.
The China Chongqing International Construction Corporation (CICO), a Chinese construction firm has spend almost two years restoring the bridge, and Public Works Minister Woods says the Government is working with the contractors to ensure that the 240 meter-long bridge will be of quality and durability.
He said with the level of work done thus far, he is confident that the targeted date of completion is still a possibility. Slated initially to have been completed last year, preparatory works and studies forced the finishing date to be pushed to December this year, which the company has said it would meet.
Minister Woods has inspected work on the bridge at least three times since he became infrastructure Minister in 2009, pressurizing the Chinese contractors to add speed to the work.
President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, who mention of the bridge’s completion in her annual address in January, visited the construction site last year and commended the local and Chinese contractors for the work, urging them to work harder.
Critics of the government have argued that it is deliberately delaying the restoration of the bridge to be completed close the elections to be used to attract voters the cast ballot for the incumbent. But Minister Woods said the debate is groundless and treacherous.
The Minister, who was accompanied by the Superintendent of Montserrado County Grace Kpaan and the head of the Infrastructure Implementation Unit Mr. Akindele Beckley, spoke with engineers and technical staff of both CICO and the MPW assigned on the project regarding key aspects of the work in progress.
He admonished the local workers of CICO to exhibit strong sense of patriotism and commitment in the discharge of their duties, indicating that though they are working with CICO which is a private company, yet they are also citizens of Liberia contributing positively to its reconstruction.
Responding to questions from a score of journalists who covered the inspection tour, Minister Woods maintained that the Ministry would be in no rush to overlook observable mistakes in every aspect of the project. Where faults are discovered, he said, work will be halted to make sure that they are corrected so that the bridge will be one of international standard with a guarantee of both quality and longevity.
He said public infrastructures must be built in line with contemporary realities and that his administration will not hastily complete a project that will endanger people’s lives.
The Public Works Minister then made a brief visit to the township of West Point, where full asphalt pavement of the West Point road has already commenced.
Clearing of the right-of-way, following series of community sensitization and awareness meetings with residents, is ongoing.
Upon his arrival in the township, the Minister and his entourage were greeted by
The Commissioner, prominent citizens and officials and members of the West Point Intellectual Forum including ordinary citizens greeted the minister and team upon arrival
Minister Woods’ presence in West Point was intended for him to support the work of the Ministry’s Community Services Bureau which has for the past two weeks admonished residents living in the street to relocate rather than being compelled to do so when the grace period runs out.
Minister Woods told the residents that the Government of Liberia is committed to improving basic services to the township and frowned on the false perception that government interest in the people of West Point is contingent upon the 2011 elections,.
The claim, he pronounced, is not only treacherous and deceptive but willfully an evil message being waged by individuals who are against Liberia’s progress.
There, he cited the Vai town bridge as a classic example saying that this bridge is expected to be completed way beyond October 2011 at which time elections will have been over and so he cannot comprehend how government is using the completion of the bridge as a campaign strategy as alleged by detractors.
He concluded by informing them that when the road is widened and paved, it will accelerate other kinds of initiatives in the township as road drives development.
He said “with a new road, ambulance, fire truck and similar live-saving services being provided by government will reach all dwellers because accessibility has been improved.
As for the West Point residents, many were seen voluntarily demolishing makeshift structures with those interviewed asserting that they are glad for the pavement of their road and will comply with the MPW authorities because the work being done is in their interest.
Some even interjected that the request for the reconditioning of the road was made by them when the President visited the township some time last year.
Meanwhile, the Ministry of Public Works is calling on all road users to cooperate with CHICO, the company charged with the responsibility of paving the West Point road.
MPW Director of Communications and Documentation, Mr. Jesefu M. Keita speaking to journalists after the tour cited instances in which contractors all over the country and particularly in Monrovia and its environs have complained about drivers and motorcyclists disrespecting signs and at times abusing workers who tried to enforce work regulations.