Monrovia – Looking to cement his argument about the need to improve road conditions in Southeast Liberia, Alexander Cummings, Standard Bearer of the Alternative National Congress, is throwing jabs at Vice President Joseph Boakia’s decision to fly into the area where he is currently on a campaign tour of one of the most challenging parts of Liberia.
“I respect our Vice President. I know vice President Boakai actually quite well, and I mean no disrespect to him. But if you don’t experience what your people experience, I’m not sure if there is a strong incentive to fix it.”
“And so, I drove deliberately; I could have flown, but I wanted to experience the road condition that our people face every day.”
Speaking in an interview with the VOA James Butty, Mr. Cummings told the Voice of America Monday that while he has a lot of respect for the Vice President, one of his rival in next month’s Presidential race, he was taken aback by his decision to travel the southeast by air.
No Incentives to Fix
“I respect our vice President. I know vice President Boakai actually quite well, and I mean no disrespect to him; but if you don’t experience what your people experience, I’m not sure if there is a strong incentive to fix it,” the ANC’s standard bearer said.
Much of Liberia’s southeast has been plagued with bad road conditions posing serious problems and challenges for motorists and passengers.
Farmers in areas such as Rivercess, Sinoe and Grand Kru have difficulties transporting food stuff to markets, especially during the heart of the rainy season when most areas become a no-way-zone for commuters.
The issue is becoming a major discussion point in the Presidential race with many of the twenty candidates likely to be kept from campaigning in the southeast due to bad roads during the rainy season.
Mr. Cummings has made roads and infrastructural development a cornerstone of his presidency if elected.
“It does matter to me that the Southeast is cutoff from the rest of Liberia,” he told FrontPageAfrica recently.
Earlier this year, a team of European Union officials traveled to the south-eastern counties of Liberia between February 16 and 24 in a bid to get a comprehensive view of the challenges faced by the population of these counties.
While the World Bank and other development partners have made interventions in other parts of the country linking areas like the Buchanan highway, Ganta and Gbarnga, Bong County, boosting economic development in those areas, residents in the southeastern counties of Rivercess, Sinoe and Grand Kru have not been so lucky.
Under the current government, the Suakoko Highway runs through Ganta, a commercial hub in Nimba County, leading to the Guinea border.
Ganta, a transit point for commuters to and from southeastern Liberia, Ivory Coast and Guinea is booming due to the improved road conditions.
The World Bank and multi-donor trust fund for infrastructure, including the Liberia Reconstruction Trust Fund (LRTF), was put into place to muster support for Liberia’s damaged infrastructure.
The LRFT is supported by contributions from the European Union, and the governments of Great Britain, Sweden, Ireland, Norway and Germany, and the World Bank.
The LRTF is administered by the World Bank and supervised by an Oversight Committee comprising the Government of Liberia, contributing donors, and the World Bank.
The World Bank and LRTF partners have committed around $400 million to ongoing transport projects in Liberia.
These projects, collectively managed as a program, have financed the rehabilitation of over 500 kilometers of paved roads, representing about 60% of total paved network of roads in Liberia.
In July 2013, President Sirleaf dedicated an 80.8km stretch of road from Cotton Tree to Buchanan City in Grand Bassa County reduced travel from the capital to Buchanan from five hours to roughly two hours.
The newly paved asphalt road from Gbarnga, Bong County to Ganta in Nimba County has also made the two cities major destinations for events out of the capital.
In March this year, the President broke grounds for phase II of the Fish Town –Harper road project.
The project which is now under the auspices of the Mano River Union Road Development and Transport Facilitation Programme (MRU/RDTFP) has five key components and will last for 36 months plus a one- year defect liability period.
The five components include road development and mitigation of negative environmental impacts, related development and women’s empowerment, transportation facilitation, institutional support and programme management."
"With phase I already on-going between Harper City and Karloken and at 37 percent completion level, phase II commences at Karloken and ends at Fish Town in River Gee County.
But while some in roads are being made, Mr. Cummings is hopeful that a victory for him in the upcoming race will help address what many say is a neglected portion of Liberia as he took aim at Vice President Boakai for ignoring the plight of many in the area by flying over the problem.
‘I Drove Deliberately’
“I drove deliberately; I could have flown, but I wanted to experience the road condition that our people face every day.”
On the way back the ANC leader, who launched his campaign in southeastern Liberia and campaigned by road throughout the region, said, difficulties on the roads enabled him to hear from voters in the area.
“I got stuck between Tappita and Saclepea for over four hours in the mud."
"And I think that as national leaders, it behooves us to experience what our people experience."
"And so I think our vice President Boakai should have driven down and experience what our people experience every day as opposed to flying into the southeast.”
In his VOA interview, Mr. Cummings also pledged that if elected, he will provide credit to help Liberian businesses grow and charged that his presidency will focus on primary health care because it impacts majority of Liberians.
Mr. Cummings says he will cut what he calls waste in government like excessive trips by government officials and the purchase of expensive vehicles and will not take a salary as President.
Instead, he says he will allocate his salary to the fight against corruption in Liberia.
Mr. Cummings has also pledged to cut what he calls waste in government like excessive trips by government officials and the purchase of expensive vehicles to help pay for his programs. “I think there is a lot of waste in government."
"We spent money on a lot of things. I think we should reduce the number of people that travel - the class of travel."
"I believe united states government senior officials, ambassadors’ travel in coach when they travel on official business.”
High Salaries; Poor Country
Mr. Cummings said it is unfair for ministers and legislators to travel in first class when the rest of the country is in dire straits.
“We need to change that. That’s money we can save. The number of cars we buy. I think we can reduce the number, but even the kinds. Take the Toyota family of cars."
"You have Toyota land cruiser. You can buy a land cruiser for 80 and 100 thousand dollars or you can buy one for US$40,000. They are all land cruisers, all reliable.
"We need to be buying $40,000 land cruisers, take that difference and invest in these things."
"So, there’s waste. Then there’s this thing called corruption. You know it has been the brain of our country because these are the things we can control.”
He added that while Liberia is regularly ranked among the poorest countries in the world, the country’s legislators are among the richest countries in the world.
“Our legislators today make more than Americans pay their senators and their representatives, and we all know America is one of the richest countries in the world. That cannot be right."
"You cannot have 103 people – 73 representatives and 30 senators out of a budget of $600 million take around US$40 million."
"What’s left for the rest of us? So, we have to work with the legislators to reduce their salaries so we can use that money to redistribute to pay teachers, healthcare workers, to pay Police people, and other civil service workers, to pay them more."
"Liberians have to put pressure on their legislators to reduce their salaries. And it’s only fair and equitable to do that.”