Tale of Three Counties: How Independence Day Projects Die After Celebration

Source: FrontPageAfrica

07/14/2010 – Nat Nyuan Bayjay

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MAKING SACRIFICES: Allen Tubah, pictured here in front of the Twin Perkins Generators which supplies Bong County, heads the BES. Tubah says he and his small team of eleven workers are committed to keep the city’s lights on. Tubah says the BES maintains a client-ship of less than 60 persons for a twin Perkin-generator of 110 and 250 KVA that consumes between 35 to 40 gallons daily. “We are barely sacrificing here because it is even difficult to have the few customers we have on the line paying their bills regularly”, Tubah told FPA.

Gbarnga, Bong County –

When the Unity Party (UP) led government decided to rotate the official observance of the National Independence Day one year into its grip of state power to various sub-political capitals across the nation, one key purpose of such decision was to also rotate and spread the long-centralized developmental agenda in Africa’s first independent nation.

With the Herculean task of restoring basic social services to the Capital proving to be difficult to overcome, many had thought that the rotational policy of celebrating the Independence Day in provincial capitals outside Monrovia would have helped to restore some of these basic services to these capitals of the other 14 counties which has not experienced them for over two decades.

Key among them is electricity which remains scarce and far away from these capitals.

Seven years after the official end to the 14 years civil war, the Liberia Electricity Corporation (LEC) still struggles to fully restore electricity to the capital, settling for a ‘Small Lights Today, Big Lights Tomorrow’ project that has seen a few parts of the capital electrified.

The destruction of the nation’s sole hydro-plant during the war has left thousands of Liberians to only but dream of electric power in their homes while thousands other young Liberians who are 20 years old and below are yet to see electricity in their homes with the exception of those who burn gasoline to run mini-generators and those who are fortunate to be in the city and see it on some of the few electrified street lights.

While the Liberian government continues to state that more than the country’s entire fiscal annual budget is needed to rehabilitate the Mount Coffee St. Paul River Hydro Plant in White Plains, Upper Caldwell which remains Liberians’ hope to being fully able to afford and maximize such an important utility both domestically and industrially, the introduction of an alternative power source in the country seems just the right way out of this electricity nightmare for the ordinary Liberians.

The inclusion of restoring public electricity as a vital project to the host cities of the Independence Day for the past years was met with public overwhelming excitement which has been seen as a gradual return of these host cities to the restoration of electric-power, at least at a minimum skill.

Unfortunately, two of the three previous host-cities of the Independence Day have failed miserably in being able to maintain the electric power that was restore to them when they served as hosts, something that many have considered to be a shame on the county leaderships of the counties involved.

Grand Bassa County & Its Blame-Game Denies Citizens of Post-Independence Day Electricity
Following its inception into power in 2006, the first post-war government identified Grand Bassa County, which is one of the country’s first three original counties, as the first and privileged host of Independence Day 2007 with was the 160th Independence Day celebration. The county’s provincial capital, Buchanan, happens to be the country’s second largest seaport city subsequently making it to be the country’s second major city.

On July 26, 2007, all roads led to the port city following the identification and implementation of some Independence Day projects that the citizens of Grand Bassa County were to be later denied in just few months after the festivities.

The citizens of the county whose last sight of a public electricity was during the morning hours of May 19, 1990 when the then raging war entered the port city had their hope of being able to see street lights once again dashed and let them by the mismanagement of the electricity that went down only within few months after the celebration.

The leadership of the county then got into a blame-game that witnessed the Superintendent of the county and some of the county’s lawmakers being entangled in a deadly political game in which both parties accused one another of being responsible for the lights going off in Buchanan all at the expense of the residents of the port-city.

Superintendent Julia Duncan Cassell alleged that the county’s Liberty Party dominated Legislative Caucus had ‘sabotaged’ the supply of electric power to the city while the accused group of legislators reversed the Superintendent’s accusing finger to her, citing that she mismanaged the city’s supply of electric power.

The swinging war of allegations including the Superintendent’s alleged personal usage of the generator that once supplied the city with electric power to the allegation that the Liberty Party’s lawmakers-as led by Junior Senator Nathaniel Innis and Representative Gabriel Smith’s ‘paying of thugs’ to cut down the electric wires-was the only redress the residents of the county could get while the Port-city of Buchanan remains in complete darkness up to today’s date.

Prior to the hosting of the event, Superintendent Cassell had said projects earmarked for the occasion were all well on course.

The projects included the rehabilitation of the Buchanan Highway, a town hall and a Commissioner’s office in Lloydsville outside Buchanan and the establishment of a juvenile session at the Buchanan Police Detachment.

Madam Duncan-Cassell had also boosted of Buchanan being equipped with internet facility during the July 26 celebration.

The situation led a disappointed and enraged President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf during a visit to Buchanan to ask the citizens of Grand Bassa County to repay for the costs of electricity, though another two years have passed since she made the pronouncement without any result from what was seen as a heavy ‘Presidential Order’ at the time.

Margibi County’s Local Authorities’ ‘Non-Progressive’ Attitude Cost Residents Darkness
Then came Margibi County’s turn when its provincial capital played host to the 2008 Independence Day Celebrations that commemorated the 161st Independence of Liberia.

Margibi ’08 did not prove to be too hectic as far as transportation and lodging were concerned due to its close proximity to the capital Monrovia.

Vital among the projects earmarked for the observance of the national event in addition to the rehabilitation of some of the streets in the city were the restoration (at least partial) of both running water and public electricity.

Kakata is one of Liberia’s major commercial centers that lies right on the major route that leads from Monrovia to the Ivory Coast and Guinea and its re-electrification to mark the celebration soon stepped in the shoes of its neighboring sister city of Buchanan which had apparently set a bad incidence a year earlier.

Frustrated and disappointed citizens of the county only found themselves like those of neighboring Grand Bassa as they lamented what they termed at the time as the ‘non-progressive’ leadership of Margibi County they said was responsible for the breakdown and mismanagement of the electric project that has left Kakata in complete darkness.

Hurray To Bong County! Its County Leadership’s ‘Sacrifice’ Keeps Power On
Obviously determined to not repeat the mistakes of the past two host counties of the Independence Day, the centrally located county of Bong which served as the host for Independence Day 2009 that commemorated the country’s 162nd Independence, one year on, still runs its electricity, making its provincial capital of Gbarnga to be the only electrified provincial capital in Liberia outside Monrovia.

Though similar noise emerged few weeks following the hosting of the Independence Day over the electrification of Gbarnga after power went off for a while, public electricity returned to Gbarnga’s streets following the intervention of a group of retired workers of LEC who grouped themselves and began to manage the city’s electric power. The county leadership gladly accepted the former LEC workers to then proceed with the management of the power in the county.

Named the Bong Electricity System (BES), a small staff who volunteers services, is said to be sacrificially managing the county’s electric power Independence Day project. It is being accredited for Bong County’s upkeep of the electricity along with the county’s leadership.

Bong County’s functionally electricity, though still on a smaller scale, distinguishes the county from Grand Bassa and Margibi Counties as far as maintaining the Independence Day projects are concerned.

However, the maintenance of the electric power comes with a prize which both the management team and the county’s leadership are well living up to the task.

Allen Tubah who heads the BES explained the constraints under which he and his small team of 11 committed personnel are operating to keep the city’s lights on.

During a recent visit to Gbarnga, Tubah revealed to FrontPageAfrica that the BES maintains a client-ship of less than 60 persons for a twin Perkin-generator of 110 and 250 KVA that consumes between 35 to 40 gallons daily.

“We are barely sacrificing here because it is even difficult to have the few customers we have on the line paying their bills regularly”, Tubah told FPA.

Disclosing that the BES is independent of the LEC, Tubah also disclosed that they-former workers of the LEC prior to the war-had to intervene to keep the project running because according to him, LEC had abandoned the project due to the constraints.

Bong County Superintendent, Renney Jackson and Bong County Representative George Mulbah both told FPA that keeping the lights on requires some extra and personal sacrifices.

“We sometimes have to put in our personal gasoline to keep the lights on”, said Superintendent Jackson while Representative Mulbah, also Chairman of the county’s Legislative Caucus, added: “Even the guys that work there are not on salaries. We at times have to dig into pockets just to keep Gbarnga on in order to not be like the other cities that tried but could not make it. This is what some people out there don’t know but will choose to say whatever they wish to say.”

Gbarnga’s Success, Nimba’s Cue
Later this month, Nimba will serve as the host to the 163rd Independence Day and observers are saying that Nimba County should take cue from its neighbor Bong County if Sanniquellie’s electric power is to last and serve residents of the provincial capital after the Independence Day celebrations are over and the President and her guests have left.

According to a United Nations Development Program (UNDP) statistics in 2007, Liberia’s total production of electricity in 2000 was 450 million kWh, down from 834 million kWh in 1988. Of the 2000 total, 100% came from fossil fuels.

The former Managing Director of LEC, Harry Yuan, in 2007 told Liberian media that Liberian Government needs “US$500 million for the complete rehabilitation of the existing St. Paul Hydro Plant and the construction of an upstream storage dam”.

The city of Gbarnga, Bong County is one of few counties in post-war Liberia enjoying reasonable amounts of electricity daily.

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