Pres. Sirleaf Tours Lofa, Commissions Projects

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(MONROVIA, LIBERIA – Wednesday, February 19, 2014) On her current tour of Lofa County, President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf on Wednesday, February 19, dedicated the Micro-Hydro Power Plant in Yandohun Town, Kolahun District, and called for maximizing the facilities for the transformation of its users.

During the dedication ceremony, according to an Executive Mansion release, President Sirleaf encouraged Yandohun residents to see the energy as an opportunity to once and for all transform their lives by engaging in small businesses that would benefit them and their families.

The President mentioned ice making, cold water, and rice mill processing as examples for small and medium enterprises (SMEs) could invest in, to greatly transform their lives. She challenged the people to form a cooperative in achieving this, which would lead to more SMEs.

“Do not just use this electricity to dance at night under light; it’s your opportunity to make use of what you have been blessed with, and the only way you can help government fight poverty is by getting involved in the fight. This is why the hydro has been built here,” the President told a cheering crowd.

President Sirleaf paid tribute to Peace Corps Volunteer Gary Duncan, traditionally named Selle, who conceived the idea in the late 1970s and later experimented with the idea of a 30-kilowatt plant that served the local community before it was destroyed by war.

The rehabilitation and expansion of the plant to 60 kilowatts became a government initiative when President Sirleaf issued Executive Order No. 23, directing the Ministry of Lands, Mines & Energy (MLME) to turn a dream into reality by ensuring that off-grid rural communities benefit from low- cost energy under a project called Catalyzing New Renewable Energy in Rural Liberia. This led to the establishment of the Rural Renewable Energy Agency (RREA), with the Yandohun project being the pilot to the initiative.

To the sounds of drumming, singing and dancing, the residents of the town said they could not have imagined their new life where they enjoy 24-hours electricity at low cost. The facility serves the communities of Yandohum, Dagalahun I, and Dagalahun II, and collects L$200 from each house monthly in maintenance cost, with plans to extend to nearby communities.

In an effort to make the community take ownership, during the construction period the RREA trained 100 local residents to operate and manage the facilities, including switching, connection, bill collection and maintenance, among others.

Following the indoor ceremony, President Sirleaf proceeded to the transmission site, which she described as “incredible,” and challenged those in the energy sector to speed up similar projects since the funds for several more had been secured.

The challenge to the energy sector was in response to an announcement by the World Bank’s Country Manager, Iguna Dobraja, that the Bank has appropriated US$25 million for rural energy, while the African Development Bank has allocated another US$25 million, as announced by Mr. Stephen Potter, Projects Director at MLME, for a total of US$50 million for similar projects across the country.

Before the Yandohun dedication, President Sirleaf had spent the night in Vahun, which borders Sierra Leone, and encouraged the citizens to remain peaceful and law abiding. The President interacted with various civil society groupings, including students, women and business associations, each one presenting a statement of support to government’s development program and, at the same time, making recommendations which the President received and promised to review and take action where necessary.

Some of the recommendations included: increasing the number of high schools from one to at least two in Vahun District; and youth inclusion in decision-making at the district level.

The Liberian President thanked the people for preserving the peace. She reminded them to do all that they could to keep their children in school, and she challenged the adults to take an interest in vocational education, especially carpentry, masonry and other life-supporting ventures, for their survival.

Amidst continuous drumming and dancing, the people of Vahun gowned the President for her effort to reconnect their district to Liberia by road once again. Before the reconditioning of the Kolahun/Vahun highway, the district, according to the residents, was completely cut off from Liberia, and the people did nearly everything with neighboring Sierra Leone, including trading, and used the Leone as their currency.

“We now feel as citizens of Liberia by the reconditioning of the road and the arrival of a Liberian President in Vahun for the first time in 30 years,” Augustus Bimba told those gathered at the program to officially welcome President Sirleaf to Vahun.

The people of Vahun, through their representative, Hon. Fofee Sahr Bimba, called on the government to open up the road between Vahun and Tubmanburg, Bomi County, which, he said, would be a five-hour drive as compared to the route from Monrovia through Gbarnga to Voinjama, which takes over ten hours.

Apart from President William R. Tolbert, President Sirleaf is the only President to have visited that part of the country. While in the district, she inspected several projects, including a cocoa nursery, women weaving projects, among others.

Briefing the President on state of affairs of the district, Superintendent George Dunor said schools and clinics are all functioning well, in support of government’s development agenda.

The President’s Lofa trip has already taken her to Foya, Kolahun and, on Thursday, to Voinjama to inspect the progress being made at the Lofa Community College.

Among those accompanying President Sirleaf on her trip to Lofa were: Senator Sumo Kupe; Representatives Clarence Massaquoi and Fofee Sahr Bimba; Commerce Minister Axel Addy; Public Works Minister Dr. Antoinette Weeks, among others.