Road Safety Experts Blame Transport Ministry for Inaction on Road Safety

MONROVIA, Montserrado – Amid the recent crash that involved Montserrado’s 15th district representative, Adolph Lawrence, road safety insiders are drawing attention to the nation’s stalled efforts to begin implementing a National Road Safety Action plan that was launched in October 2018.

In 2018, the World Health Organization ranked Liberia as having the worst safety record in sub-Saharan Africa, with an estimated 35.9 deaths per 100,000 people. This is likely due to the lax implementation of many road safety measures, which the National Road Safety Action Plan was developed to address.

The action plan was meant to be implemented over a period of ten years. The implementation was estimated to cost approximately US$22.1 million and was meant to address long-term challenges, including safer vehicles and road infrastructure, education of road users, more effective post-crash response, and improving road safety management, as a key step in reducing the economic and social burden imposed on citizens by road traffic crashes.

But since the plan was launched, and the subsequent establishment of the implementing structures, a document leaked to The Bush Chicken claims that the Ministry of Transport, which is the lead agency responsible for implementing the road safety action plan, has done almost nothing to push the plan forward.

The document, prepared by an unnamed development partner to assess the reasons for delay in implementing the plan, notes that the delay is allowing hazardous conditions to remain on Liberia’s roads, thus contributing to high rate of road traffic accidents, such as the one that killed the late representative.

The report described the failure of the Transport Ministry to implement the plan as a major concern that is symptomatic of an inability to address road safety at all levels. It further noted that individual members of the Road Safety Secretariat, representing all five member ministries and agencies, have expressed their support for improving road safety in the country, but are also angry and frustrated over the manner in which the secretariat is being run.

“Almost all of this frustration was directed at the coordinator of the TSU [Traffic Safety Unit], Dave Daewoo, and the minister of transport himself, Minister [Sam] Wlue, whom Mr. Daewoo reports to,” the report noted.

It also accused the Ministry of Transport of misappropriating funds meant to purchase equipment to get the Road Safety Secretariat operational. Some of the furniture purchased as part of this effort were diverted to the office of the transport minister, the report noted.

According to them, the appointed director of the Road Safety Secretariat, Kpannah Allen was removed from the post because she complained about the process of procuring items for the secretariat. Another person appointed to coordinate the secretariat, Samuel Wonasue was also suspended.

“We cannot do anything without the coordinator of the TSU, which we never get,” the report read, referencing Daewoo.

The Bush Chicken reached out to the Ministry of Transport to address the claims, but Daewoo did not give an interview in time for publication. As for Samuel Wonasue, who had briefly coordinated the secretariat, he said he only had one job – to adjust the Road Safety Action Plan to implementable within five years, instead of the original ten years. He said he has completed that task and cannot speak about the plan’s implementation given that he has no control over it.

Others who have been working on road safety issues in the country concurred with the conclusions of the report. Another individual, who spoke anonymously in order to freely disclose information on the sensitive topic, blamed the lack of progress on the “lack of political will from the ministry of transport and the lack of competency from the coordinator, [Daewoo].”

“Dave [Daewoo] is a good talker but he cannot do anything. The transport minister has not removed a coordinator that many consider to be incompetent,” the source further added, confirming that there was furniture procured for the Road Safety Secretariat that are still in the minister’s office.

“This is preventing the Ministry of Transport from getting any [additional] funds to implement parts of the action plan.”

The preliminary amount provided to the Ministry of Transport to get the Road Safety Secretariat running has been estimated at US$18,000, according to various sources familiar with the issue.

Vasco Masseh, the executive director of the advocacy group Save Life Liberia, also added his voice to claims of the Transport Ministry’s reluctance in pushing to implement the National Road Safety Action Plan.

“It is entirely as a result of poor leadership at the Ministry of Transport. They were given the lead role to coordinate every other thing. In fact, they had the secretariat hosted. The lack of progress has been as a result of poor leadership of the Ministry of Transport,” he said in an interview.

“It’s not only about poor leadership but it’s also about some financial malpractices because there were some initial funds that were released. Those funds were mismanaged.”

While he acknowledged that other agencies such as the Liberia National Police, the Ministry of Health, and others could also play their respective roles, Masseh said the transport minister’s insistence on having Daewoo lead road safety initiatives is a major impediment.

Vasco Masseh (in yellow vest), executive director of Save Life Liberia, speaks to the press. Photo courtesy of Vasco Masseh

He drew attention to the human cost of inaction against road safety issues, noting the death of a motorcyclist killed by a vehicle of Rep. Gunpue Kargon, the Central Bank employee killed in a road accident, and the fatal accident involving the presidential motorcade that killed members of the Executive Mansion press team.

“It means every other person is at risk of accident,” Masseh said. “We have people in air-conditioned offices calling themselves ministers and directors and they’re not doing anything, even when money is not the issue. The World Bank has put forth US$5 million toward road safety. Money is not the problem here. The problem is people are being very incompetent – they’re being very wicked, they’re being very cruel.”

Masseh, who lost a close friend in a road accident in 2012, said President George Weah needs to consider replacing the Transport Minister Sam Wlue if he will not take actions to improve road safety.

“No personal interest is so important beyond the interest of the people,” he said. “Our country is at stake and it’s a serious threat to our national existence.”

Already there is an online petition directed at getting the National Legislature to take actions to ensure that laws and policies around road safety are enforced.

“To reduce accident-related deaths, we are even appealing for the improvement of roads and traffic signs, plantings of street lights, functional traffic lights, and removal of defective cars from the street and empower our police with resources to do their job,” the petition reads.

At least 2,000 persons have signed the petition.

Featured photo courtesy of Yawah Jaivey

Gbatemah Senah

Gbatemah is a graduate of the University of Liberia and a recipient of the Jonathan P. Hicks Scholarship for Mass Communications. In 2017, Senah won three Press Union of Liberia awards: Women's Rights Reporter of the Year, Legislative Reporter of the Year, and Land Rights Reporter of the Year. In 2018, he was also recognized as the Land Rights Reporter of the Year.

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