Liberian minister calls for consideration of social aspects of infrastructure

12 Nov 15

A greater focus on the social as well as the economic impacts of infrastructure investments may be needed, Liberia’s minister of public works has said.

Speaking at the Overseas Development Institute’s Centre for Aid and Expenditure 2015 conference yesterday, Gyude Moore explained that Liberia’s development partners were often reluctant to invest in urgently needed infrastructure because they doubted it would produce the intended returns and feared it would be a ‘white elephant’.

He said: “States are not established simply to provide public goods based on economic metrics. Other metrics ought to be taken into account.”

Only 700km out of Liberia’s 10,000km of roads are paved, Moore highlighted. While investment analysis may not suggest an immediate economic return, it is developments like this that could provide a baseline for the country’s economy to grow and in turn lift its people out of “unyielding poverty”, he argued.

Moore noted that when the Ebola outbreak struck during last year’s rainy season the appalling quality of even Liberia’s main roads, which connect county capitals or go to the country’s borders, exacerbated the crisis to a huge degree.

People could not access the care they needed in time, and specimens deteriorated on their way to laboratories.

“So while we may not be able to make the economic case for a particular road that may be considered a white elephant, we can make the social welfare case,” he said.

Moore acknowledged that Liberia needed to strengthen its own management and governance systems so it could effectively absorb the money it received.

However, he added, development partners often introduce their own inefficiencies that significantly delay the progress of projects because of concerns about corruption or inefficiency on the part Liberia.

This introduces “new onerous burdens” on an already struggling system, the minister said.

During a later session, Jeffrey Gutman, a senior fellow at the US-based Brookings Institution think-tank, also spoke of the need to consider whether a project will be socially inclusive at completion.

For example, he noted, in many cases “access is about affordability” and projects need to be affordable for the individual user once complete as well as those bankrolling their development.

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