Squatters in Hot Water
Liberians and foreign residents who are illegally occupying or squatting on public lands, especially those obstructing major road construction in Monrovia and its environs, have gotten on the nerves of President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, who has threatened to demolish illegal structures without compensation.
President Sirleaf said government will not hesitate to demolish without compensation all structures built over drainages or in alley-ways if they were built there illegally.
The President, while touring various deplorable roads on Bushrod Island and in Gardnersville, threatened to demolish all structures built over drainages and in alleys.
The building of structures, many of them makeshifts and situated in alleys, have caused massive flooding of several communities in Monrovia and its environs and even around the country during the past rainy season.
“Any structure that is sitting over a drain or preventing a road from being fixed will be destroyed. All those structures that fall in that category better begin to move right now,” she warned.
President Sirleaf issued the warning near Clara Town, when she inspected ongoing rehabilitation work on deplorable roads on Bushrod Island and Gardnersville. She also toured UN Drive up to the St. Paul’s Bridge, and later Somalia Drive from Freeport to 72nd Junction and on to S.K. Doe Boulevard.
Accompanying the President on the tour were outgoing Public Works Minister, Dr. Antoinette Weeks, who has received a barrage of criticism for having little impact at the Ministry since her appointment, her deputy for Technical Services Claude Langley, and Minister of Public Works-designate, Mr. William Gyude Moore.
During a cabinet retreat about a year or two ago, President Sirleaf, complained of people intentionally squatting on government land in order to get compensation. She also complained that government was spending a lot of unnecessary funds to compensate illegal occupants—money she said that could be used to carry out other development initiatives.
The Liberian government and its partners a few months ago concluded the compensation scheme to pay structure owners along the Somalia Drive, where the Japanese government has embarked upon the construction of the Freeport to Red-Light Freeway. Though the construction exercise was halted as a result of the Ebola outbreak, residents and commercial people have now begun to construct illegal structures in the right-of-way or where previous structures have been demolished.
President Sirleaf told journalists that her tour of major roads in and around Monrovia was to see first-hand some of the challenges along those roads. It was also a demonstration of collaborative efforts, including the exchange of ideas on the current road situation between the outgoing and incoming Public Works Ministers in preparation for a smooth transition.
Outgoing Public Works Minister Weeks informed her former boss that the problems with the roads, especially around the Clara Town area, that contributed to the heavy flooding of the area during the rainy season, was a result of bad pavement.
“We’ve got a lot of problems with standing water and blocked drainages,” Weeks said, adding that Public Works engineers have completed a design that can help address the drainage issues in these critical areas.”
“Some of it is because we have blocked structures; some due to poor drainage systems. So there has to be a comprehensive plan while we address the drainage issue,” she noted.
In the interim, Dr. Weeks said, the bad sections of the road have been removed to get it down to grade temporarily, to improve driving on that stretch of road.
As regards those who have built structures on drainages or in alley-ways, outgoing Minister Weeks said the intention is not to bring distress to anybody but there will be instances where there will be no choice but to open up the alley-ways. “We will try to minimize it as much as we can but at the end of the day, if there are conduits that we have to get through, then the only option is to remove the structures standing in the way.”
For his part, new Public Works Minister -designate, Mr. Gyude Moore, is confident that he’s up to the task if confirmed by the Senate. He said as head of the President’s Delivery Unit (PDU) at the Ministry of State, he has been following the infrastructure projects – power, roads and ports. “We’re very familiar with the projects that we will be following. I think we’re up to the challenge,” he said.
If confirmed, Mr. Moore said he hopes immediately to begin with the projects the Ministry of Public Works has control over; while those projects being undertaken by other contractors will have to wait until those contractors return.
He promised to learn from his predecessors as he takes on the task at the Ministry of Public Works, if confirmed. “Whether it was Minister Woods or Minister Weeks, all of them did what they thought was best. I’m going to learn from them. Where they succeeded, I will build on that success and where they didn’t succeed, I’ll learn from the mistakes they made to be able to do better,” he said.
“We’re confident that the same energy we brought to the PDU in the Office of the President is the same energy we’ll bring to Public Works in order to move our country forward.”