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Freetown: New Elevator for Youyi Building? - 2012-10-24

Freetown: New Elevator for Youyi Building?

The news of the The Youyi office building, one of the nation’s infrastructural landmarks in Freetown getting a new elevator (courtesy of the Exclusive press) comes as a sigh of relief to the hundreds of visitors to this edifice once the pride of our nation. It’s a shame to all of us to even allow the situation to deteriorate to this level. This building which was constructed in the seventies during the All People’s Congress Days of the Late President Stevens is home to most of the nation’s government ministries. But sad to say it is one of the most forgotten or neglected buildings of the nation. The fact however is that our governments without exception have over the years been found wanting in the culture of maintenance. I was in Freetown a few months ago and actually visited by chance some government buildings , once the pride of our nation. All without exception are in a state of very rapid decline.

In the seventies, the People’s Republic of China constructed and donated to us, the National Stadium and the Youyi Building both in the same neighbourhood West end of the city. The Youyi building was built with two elevators to ease visitors’ and workers’ traffic in the office building. The first thing a visitor notices in the ground floor is the line up of intending passengers for their flight to different levels piloted by a full-fledged lift operator whose job is just to take his passengers to their different stops. But going to some floor like the 7th floor, one has to alight either on the 6th and climb up the stairs to the 7th or continue to the 8th floor and climb down the to the 7th. One of the elevators had broken down and in a state of disrepair very many years ago as I was made to understand: the same source told me that for at least the last ten years the building had been dependent on only one elevator which also has a history of break downs often including stalling with visitors as it shuttles up and down. Perhaps if some government Minister or Ministers had been a victim of elevator stalling, the two would have been replaced long ago; unfortunately it has always been the unfortunate visitors and workers who become the victims.

One important fact that our successive governments seem to forget over the years is that these buildings are not SLPP or APC property; they belong to the nation and our governments have a moral and political responsibility to see to their upkeep at all times, in the absence of which they begin to depreciate in no time until they get to a point of disrepair. When we lose them due to neglect, it is a loss for the nation, not for the SLPP or the APC. The puzzling question is, why go on begging for infrastructural assistance when our successive governments lack a maintenance culture of what they already have? This, viewed from all perspectives is gross irresponsibility on the part of our governments. How can the nation move on when our governments cannot upkeep what they already have? Shame on both parties!

Let the Permanent Secretary know that the Youyi building requires a complete rehabilitation or overhaul not only of its two broken elevators but also its toilets’ facilities. why did the government have to wait until the situation gets to this point in the first place? H.E President Koroma may argue that he was not aware, and true he couldn’t be aware because he does not have his office there and never visited the building to see the conditions under which his ministers do their work, nor does anyone of them have the courage to draw his attention to their plight. It’s no wonder most commuters to the building prefer the stairways rather than risk suffocation in the event of a breakdown while en route. Let the Permanent Secretary know that the people need the two elevators to be in proper working order and not just the recent dysfunctional one. Mr. PS, please don’t tell the public that buying the two would be too expensive; that was what our governments prefer to do. The Youyi building was built with two fully operational elevators, but because of government callousness to public property and under their watchful eyes, supervised the complete breakdown of these elevators. The people need their total replacement. Mr. PS when in fact did your Ministry put in the order and what is the expected arrival date?

The reason for this state of neglect of such edifices is that no Head of State since President Steven’s era has ever paid visits to the building to see ministers at work and so may feign ignorance of its problems and no one ever reports. President Stevens was there at the formal handing over ceremony when the building was formally inaugurated in the late seventies, and since then, no other President is ever known to set foot in that building. What about the thirty or more Ministers of the former SLPP and the present APC , why did they remain tight-lipped and not report to their President about this disappointing state of affairs. If the Ministers cannot tell it to their President, can a secretary do it on his own? No, save on the orders of his Minister. This is the building our Ministers and their secretaries shuttle up and down five days a week, climbing up to the 9th floor , sometimes three or four times a day if they have other business to do in some other office. They are tired even before they sit down to start the day’s work and return home physically weak and even more tired particularly those going beyond the 4th floor. Too bad a situation to say the least! No cause for jubilation over this piece of news. The SLPP and APC administrations could have done a better job over the years but failed to.

Let me also remind the Permanent Secretary that the Youyi Building needs a rehabilitation of its toilets which are equally in a deplorable and shameful state. Mr. Perm Sec, you know very well what needs to be changed in that office tower. The toilets, in the opinion of the general public, are even more urgent and of great concern for the health of employees and occasional visitors to the building. Visitors even for a two minute visit to those toilets have to hold their noses tightly to have convenience. The most embarrassing request to workers in the building which any visitor can make is a visit to the toilet. They are scarred knowing too well the shameful conditions the visitor would find if given access. In some case, they pretend not to know the whereabouts of the key to the toilets. If not for their deplorable and shameful conditions, why do the toilets have to be padlocked? These are public toilets which anyone within that building should be able to access without having to request assistance from any employee. The Chinese cannot come back to help us maintenance their gift to us. Both the SLPP and APC must feel ashamed to supervise the decline of government buildings during their years of administration. All they can always do is, divert attention from the essentials of what needs to be done and focus on what the people don’t care about. They both scored a “D” in this area, and therefore a hopeless performance. Yes the current APC government is doing its best in the area of Roads construction or rehabilitation, but the roads themselves start depreciating and declining four years after construction if there is no deliberate effort to upkeep them, and unless these new or rehabilitated roads are constantly re-visited on a triennial basis the same old road maintenance problems resurface. Every government must have a culture of maintenance of what they already have and not merely focus on what they hope to accomplish before their term expires. One cannot neglect the old for the new.

The current APC government has just constructed a brand new beautiful Civil Service Training College on Tower Hill, quite a commendable achievement. The old Civil Service Training College buildings are being occupied by IPAM under the University of Sierra Leone.

The Youyi building is not the only building that should attract government attention , there are many more. The Bank of Sierra Leone is another such building. Up to the 3th floor, no elevator worked at the time of my visit. It is still a very beautiful building on the facade. I hope the new towering Foreign Ministry Sam Bangura building will not experience the neglect of the type the Youyi building saw. But the most shameful government office is the Ministry of Health Registrar of Births and deaths office at Wilberforce Street. When one visits this office, the conclusion is that no Minister of Health in Sierra Leone in the last twenty or more years ever set foot in that building, and no officer ever reported the sub human conditions under which they work. Not only is the office dark with scores of people waiting for attention, but the heat compares to a bakery oven. Everybody is sweating like nobody’s business. There are a few other government buildings I happened to visit; most need complete rehab.

The Youyi building also provides a decent restaurant in the basement of its back side on the Old Railway Line side of the building where very many of the bureaucrats from the building descend for lunch five days a week with alternating menu Mondays through Fridays apart from the newspaper vendors who also always occupy the front of the building with all the nation’s newspapers.

The bottom line is, Sierra Leone governments must imbibe the culture of maintenance of the nation’s property. Political parties come and go and whichever is in power must do its utmost to always maintenance what we already have, cognizant of the old adage “ a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush”.