One key infrastructure the Ellen Johnson Sirleaf administration needs to give priority to in terms of rehabilitation before leaving office two years from now is the Roberts International Airport or RIA, Liberia’s main outlet to the outside world.
The first impression visitors coming to Liberia by air get about this country is the dilapidated state of the RIA in Harbel, Margibi County - once a pride for not only Liberians, but West Africa and perhaps the entire Continent.
Constructed by the US Military in the 40s as transit route for troops going to Europe during World War II, the airport subsequently commenced full commercial services here, hosting almost all major international airlines, including KLM, British Caledonian Airways, among others.
But this is not the story today as the rebel invasion of 1989 dealt a devastating blow to the airport facilities, burning down the terminal and other vital installations like almost every other infrastructure in Liberia. Ever since the war ended about two decades ago, the RIA is yet to be fully rehabilitated and restore to international standard, something that had led to flight cancellations to Liberia by many western airlines.
A special cabinet meeting held last Friday, 9 October in the Cecil Dennis auditorium at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Monrovia mandated an Inter-Ministerial Committee to prioritize the fast-tracking of the implementation plan for the refurbishing of the airport terminal, which is a disgrace for this administration that is rounding up two terms in office.
The terminal is in a bad shape and so is the airport tarmac or runway, which is rapidly depleting. While the Cabinet’s decision may be welcoming news, we are fully cognizant of previous government's pronouncements coupled with budgetary allocations about such planned RIA rehabilitation project, particularly the tarmac, which was never executed.
We vividly recall the Ellen Cockrum-Bility saga in which funds that were allocated to rehabilitate the RIA was misappropriated with the Government of Liberia indicting Miss Cockrum, who fled the country to the United States, for corruption. And that seems end of the matter.
The derelict state of the current runway of our airport risks Liberia being cut off from the rest of the world as we could be constrained sooner or later to shut down the RIA to international traffic, if nothing were done to quickly address the problem.
It is therefore important that this government act in honest as we approach the dry season to do something tangible in giving the RIA a sustainable facelift before exiting in January 2018.The too much talking should stop. The Liberian people want to see concrete actions on the ground after the paper work because we too, like our neighbors, deserve better.
We are also aware that the European Investment Bank(EIB), the Saudi Fund, as well as the Arab Bank for Economic Development in Africa(BADEA) and other partners have made funding available for the rehabilitation and refurbishment of the airport and its existing terminal.
In fact, ESSIAGE, Dawmus, LEGAN and Sino Hydro participated in a recent bid conducted by the Netherlands Airport Consulting Company or NACO, with ESSIAGE emerging as the bid winner. NACO, as we know is credited with the development of some of the world's leading airports.
We therefore call on the government to stop further delay and get down to work in the implementation of the contract as funding is being made available by partners.
We urge the appropriate agencies and authorities to stop bickering and prioritize national interest against personal gains to kick-off the project as we don’t want a scenario of the proposed Ministerial Complex that risks becoming a dream unfulfilled.