Thursday, February 6, 2014

What is going on with Executive Mansion, Anyway?

The last two posts from earlier this week reminded me that there is no real update on the status of the Executive Mansion, which continues to be officially unoccupied since the Taylor era. An article from last August echoes an article from a year previous, repeating the vague reasoning and on-going structural and fiscal delays preventing the President from taking up space in the Mansion either in a professional or residential capacity. 

A recent addition to the Monrovia Visitors Map

President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf's Press Secretary, Jerelinmik Piah, has disclosed that the Liberian leader's return to the Executive Mansion is contingent upon several conditions. Presidential Press Secretary Piah further disclosed: "When the time is ripe, and all of the conditions are met to return, you will know."He made the disclosure  as to when the Liberian leader will return to the Executive Mansion.The Executive Mansion, which is situated on Capitol Hill, Monrovia, is the official seat of the Liberian Presidency. It was constructed in 1964 under the regime of the late Liberian President William Vacanarat Shadrach Tubman by 2,000 workers, including about a fifth of Monrovia's labor force, and 150 foreign technicians. The eight-storey Executive Mansion building, which costs US$20 million, has an atomic-bomb shelter, an underground swimming pool, a private chapel, a trophy room, a cinema, an emergency power plant, water supply and sewage system, among others.But the Executive Mansion was gutted by fire during Liberia's 159th Independence Day celebration on July 26, 2006. The fire gutted the nation's highest building in the presence of three West African leaders, at a time when then newly elected President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf switched on electricity to reach limited parts of the capital city. At the time, the cause of the fire at the Executive Mansion, according to South African forensic scientists, was electrical fault. Following the fire outbreak at the Executive Mansion, the Government of Liberia announced a closure of the Mansion, and President Johnson-Sirleaf relocated to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, where she has been performing official state functions for a little over six years now.Two years after the fire incident at the Executive Mansion, GOL on August 4, 2008 announced the start of renovation work with a plan to execute the work in phases, under the supervision of the local construction group, the Milton and Richards Architecture Firm, which in turn sub-leased certain aspects of the renovation work to other local construction companies including the Liberian-owned W.R. Maintenance & Janitorial Services located in Sinkor. The scaffold at the front of the building was at the time being erected by the Company, owned by Mr. William Y.E. Abourjeily.The cost of the renovation work was estimated by GOL to be USD$7 million. Out of that amount, USD$1 million was reportedly made available in the 2008-2009 base budget of the country, while USD$2 million dollars was said to be allocated in the contingency budget of the same fiscal year; bringing the total amount for the renovation work contingent on 2008-2009 national budget to USD $3 million dollars.However, Presidential Press Secretary Piah says following the fire outbreak at the Mansion, "We want to be sure that when the President returns to the Executive Mansion, she returns to a safe Executive Mansion." He stated that the presidency needs to be taken seriously, adding that there is a need for Liberians to be aware of several factors including reasons why it was gutted by fire, its age, the scope and dimension of the damage done to the Executive Mansion by the fire, compounded by what he calls the existing old age problems faced by the Executive Mansion.He indicated that the Liberian leader will return to the Executive Mansion in the not too distant future, but was quick to point out that "the safety of the President should be of concern to us, so we want to make sure that when the President returns to the Executive Mansion, she returns to a safe Executive Mansion.""You can be assured that the President will return to the Mansion, when it becomes very appropriate and all of the necessary requirements that we think should be met for the safety of the President and those who work with her," he among others added.

Rumors in Monrovia speculate that the President thinks the Mansion is cursed, what with the murder of Tolbert in 1979, the recent misfortunes of former President Taylor, and the fire as an augury against occupying the edifice. Whatever the reason, the Ministry of State is almost entirely housed in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs next door, although I've heard the ground floor of the Mansion has some occupied offices. But for the most part, Liberia's largest, most grandiose structure continues to be renovated at a budget of at least a million dollars a year, but remains almost entirely unoccupied. 

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