Weeks Clarifies Road Projects’ Delay…Health Minister Given 72hrs To Reinstate Workers

Public Works Minister, Dr. Antoinette Weeks, has somersaulted on her early decision to shun the Liberian Senate after being invited on several occasions to give some clarifications on ongoing road projects in the country.

Dr. Weeks, who has earlier refused to appear before Plenary of the Senate in a communication, later appeared after Pro-tempore; Findley had sent out the Sergeant-At-Arm to search for her on the ground of the Capitol.

Dr. Weeks in reply to a communication sought clarifications from the Senate on some of the issues raised before appearing before that august body. But her appearance came as a surprise to many of the lawmakers who were already informed that the controversial Minister was not appearing before Plenary of the Senate.

Responding to some of the inquiries from Senators, Weeks said the Harper/Fish Town highway upgrade project is a 241 kilometers road project and is expected to extend up to Zwedru. She said the feasibility studies ended in November 2013 and that the commencement of the project will be in September or October 2014.

On the Ganta/Yekepa Highway, Minister Weeks disclosed that the road is 68km and is being funded by Arcelor Mittal in the tone of US$40 million. Weeks said the 6.68km Voinjama Street pavement is being undertaken by the Swedish Development Association (SIDA) and the Government of Liberia. She said the project started in 2012 and will complete in this year July.

Among other things, Weeks added that the Gbarnga/Menikoma project is 284km and that feasibility studies will be done on lot one to two. She said the studies are expected to complete in September 2014. Dr. Weeks said government is contemplating on getting the Kuwaiti money or other means of getting fund to carry on the project.

In a related development, the Ministry of Health and Social Welfare was yesterday given a 72-hour ultimatum to reinstate two dismissed leaders of the Health Workers Association of Liberia with their full benefits.

The Senate has also mandated Health Minister, Walter Gwenigale, to appear before that august body immediately upon his return to the country. The Senate’s mandate comes in the wake of the consistent refusal of the Ministry of Health to reinstate the President and Secretary General of the Health Workers Association of Liberia.

Twenty-two health workers were dismissed few months ago after the association staged a strike action something that paralyzed most of the health facilities throughout the country. The action by the health workers at the time was predicated upon what they called the ministry’s constant refusal to settle their benefits, pay their incentives and place some of their colleagues on payroll.

The strike action affected nearly every hospital and clinics across the country as many persons at the various health facilities were abandoned by either nurses, doctors or other caretakers at these health facilities.

The situation was so severe that some stakeholders including the Liberian Senate intervened to resolve the strike action staged by the health workers. During the negotiation, the Ministry of Health through its Minister, Gwenigale agreed to reinstate the affected health workers, but later reinstated 20 of the 22 health workers thus leaving out the President and Secretary General of the association.

Some of the Senators described the ministry’s action as a breach of the agreement and therefore, invited the Minister of Health Dr. Gwenigale to show cause why he should not be held in contempt for failing to reinstate the two persons. Later, the Senate was informed that the Minister was on leave abroad for a month and therefore, the Acting Minister, Matthew T.K Flomo was invited yesterday to respond to the lawmakers.

In his response, Min. Flomo said the action came directly from his boss, Dr. Gwenigale and therefore could not override his mandate. He later admitted that Min. Gwenigale’s decision to dismiss the two employees was purely on the basis of the strike action and not on professional basis.

But some of the lawmakers insisted that there was an imminent strike action by the health workers and something must be done to stop the situation. They then called on Plenary to insist on the Ministry to reinstate the workers.

Some of the Senators including Grand Bassa County’s Nyonblee Karnga and Gbenzohngar Findley called on Plenary of the Liberian Senate to either mandate the Acting Health Minister to reinstate the two health workers or wait for the return of the proper Minister. Following debate on the issue, it was agreed that the two Health Workers Association leaders be reinstated within 72 hours and that Dr. Gwenigale appear before Plenary immediately upon his return.