By Timothy T. Seaklon
The Field Officer of the African Development Bank (AfDB) in Liberia has identified various issues affecting project implementation in the country.
The AfDB Country Representative, Dr. Margaret Kilo, said, “Since our field office opened in August 2011, we have identified various issues affecting project implementation and tried our best to learn from them.”
Dr Kilo, speaking yesterday at the launch of the Smallholder Agricultural Productivity Enhancement and Commercialization (SAPEC) Project and the Fish Town- Harper Road Project (Phase 0ne) said, “I would like to focus my remarks on the importance of delivering good quality results through our joint efforts, Government of Liberia officials identified to work with us, and Bank staff alike.”
She noted that one of the key issues is the lengthy ratification process saying, “While it took more than a year to ratify the SAPEC project, the Fish Town — Harper Road project achieved a record for the Bank with its ratification only two days after its’ signature here in Monrovia.”
Dr. Kilo said, “Incidentally it was also signed in Monrovia, the very next day after it was approved by the Board of the African Development Bank in Tunis. The difference, in the case of the road project, was properly sensitizing, informing and communicating with the Legislature months in advance of the project arriving before them for their review.”
The AfDB Official said further that secondly, beyond initial approval and ratification, the Bank continues to face many challenges with project implementation in Liberia.
“We are well aware that contract management is critical to project implementation. During the procurement process, Implementing Agencies must be careful to select contractors that are capable, and be prepared to hold them to their contractual obligations,” she cautioned.
She told the audience which included Vice President Joseph Boakai and an array of government officials that Liberia has passed the stage when it used to receive all its resources in the form of grants — free monies.
She cautioned that in the coming years, grants will become very scarce for Liberia and it is therefore important to remember that loans ratified by the Legislature, are not African Development Bank money that the Government will be spending, but rather the Government’s money as ratified.
“If these funds are wasted due to unscrupulous contractors not living up to their contractual obligations and Government officials allowing this to happen, then Liberia, and Liberians ultimately are the losers,” Dr. Kilo stressed.
Dr. Kilo further noted that “it is critical for our Liberian counterparts: project staff and civil servants to own these projects, and carry them out with all their capacity.”
She said the Bank knows that the civil service structures and incentives currently do not fully support all the civil servants to perform its functions effectively and that hard workers do not always receive appropriate recognition through commensurate pay and promotion.
However she observed that the Government and the Civil Service Agency are working hard to reform civil service pay and hiring, which will lead to increase recognition and better pay for those staff that perform.
“We will continue to dialogue with the Government in support of advancing this agenda. The key value here is performance. We will offer training on procurement and financial procedures, but training alone will have little impact if staff do not follow through on their responsibilities,” Dr. Kilo said.
The AfDB Country Representative also stressed that governance and rule of law remain a challenge to implementing projects.
“If a contractor does not fulfill its obligations, or disappears with funding, pursuing legal action remains a lengthy and burdensome process. And contractors are well aware of this fact. In the end it should not be the African Development Bank that should pursue legal action, but the Government, because these are funds for the Liberian people,” she added.
She used the occasion to invite Superintendents of all 15 counties to join the bank in launching the SAPEC project because it is important that they are aware of the project and what their people can gain from it.
Finally, Dr. Kilon said it is the duty of the local government authorities to ensure that they are fully aware of the progress of the project in their various counties.
“Superintendents should join the Ministry of Agriculture teams to supervise and inform us, just like Mrs. Elizabeth Dempster, the Superintendent of Grand Kru did. Mrs. Elizabeth Dempster took a personal interest in her project and brought to our attention the fact that the contractor who was building culverts in her county was not reporting the true status of the project.” she disclosed.
She said in the case of Grand Kru, the contractor was unable to complete the project because he had prepared his bid in Monrovia without ever setting foot in the county to evaluate project delivery conditions for himself.
“That is why we will all pay greater attention to contracting and ensure together with Government, which these two projects and all our ongoing projects in Liberia, are implemented to the satisfaction of the Government and of the African Development Bank,” Dr. Kilo told the audience.
For his part Liberia’s Vice President, Joseph N. Boakai, challenged Liberians to take ownership of projects being implemented in the country by the Government of Liberia and her development partners.
Veep Boakai also called on Liberians to rebuild the country and take projects such as the road and agricultural projects seriously as they are a gateway to the development of all sphere of human existence.