On any given day, marketeers at the Duport Road market have to sit near their tables uncomfortably but they have no choice.
The market, constructed by President George Weah in 2019, at a cost of US244K — more than what was allocated to G.W. Harley Hospital in Nimba County, which caters to thousands of patients — is now a place of ill-repute.
For the marketeers, it is a dump site, where the material waste of daily sales is put on display. The fetid odor oozes out with a mixture of all kinds of waste, greeting buyers, motorists, and pedestrians.
“Sometimes the dirt can fill this place and we can be so embarrassed, but we have nowhere else to go. This place can be very stinky and life can be miserable,” the marketeers told the Daily Observer in an exclusive interview recently. “We are not happy selling in this dirt, but what can we do? The market leaders have failed to help us, they only care about collecting money from us. The flies are embarrassing us every day."
The untidiness of the market means the garbage can be seen piled up in almost all corners of the interior and exterior of the building. No one is exempt from the stench, the daily health hazard posed as a result of the unsanitary condition of the market, which President Weah dedicated with much pageantry.
With a capacity of over three hundred and fifty market tables, storerooms, bathrooms, electricity, and a parking lot, among others, the Duport Road Market was constructed to provide a conducive business environment for marketeers, who the public regards as engines of growth and strong pillars of national transformation.
According to Pepci Quiwi Yeke, the director of the Liberia Agency for Community Empowerment, the US$244,000 market building comprises offices with a square footage of about 10 square meters, a breadth of 1,000 square meters, and tables with a capacity of more than 400 meters.
But it was not constructed and dedicated without a caveat. President Weah during the market dedication in 2019, pleaded with the Duport Road marketeers and the community inhabitants to remember to keep the market clean, as cleanliness benefits everybody.
However, Cecelia Johnson, the Acting Superintendent for the Duport Road market, which caters to hundreds of buyers each day, was constructed without a place for waste disposal or a dedicated waste bin.
As a result, marketeers have to put their waste in bags and place it inside or outside the building, waiting for the Paynesville City Corporation to collect it. That garbage collection, according to Acting Superintendent Johnson, hardly takes place and when it is about to happen, the PCC garbage truck is unable to move to clear the waste due to the tightness of space for the truck to access the waste.
“We are just pleading with our marketeers to bear with us till we get help from aspirants in the district, the main issue is where to dump the dirt. PCC is challenged.”
Johnson also alleged that waste at the market is not solely from the marketeers, but also from the community dwellers, including those disadvantaged youth, known as ‘zogoes’, who contribute to the waste, some of which include human excreta.
This, she said, is not done during the day but during the night hours when no one is monitoring.
However, the unhindered access of Zogoes to the market comes as a result of some management flaws. The market lacks, among other things, maintenance staff or security guards, particularly for night security. The market's high vulnerability is not taken advantage of by these street thugs who frequently attack people, stealing their belongings, vandalizing the market hall, and hiding under the tables.
“This situation is not unique to this market alone, other markets are challenged with garbage issues. Many of our sellers complained that due to the stockpile of garbage, customers have gone away. It has also inflicted sickness on them and their children, but we are forced to sell here to support ourselves and our families.”
“We come and sit in the huge dirt, smell the odor and go back home because nobody wants to come to buy to inhale the stink scene,” said Mary Tweah, a dry fish seller, whose view is echoed by many of her colleagues.
"We pay L$50.00 or L$100 for [disposal of] the dirt, but no result,” said Tina Mulbah, marketeer. "When we come in the morning to put our items on the tables, all we see is a mess -- human excreta and urine everywhere.”
Meanwhile, the PCC Public Relations Officer, Jeremiah Diggen, has argued that the mindset of Liberians that the government is responsible for the trash produced by the public, is bad. That mindset, he said, has contributed to many not paying their garbage disposal fees. “Marketeers make more dirt than anyone nationwide. We have told them over and over to subscribe with the city corporation’s sanitation department to dislodge their waste, but they are not willing.”
Diggen noted that as a result of the poor management of the market waste collection process, they were forced to close their waste collection center at the beginning of this year and advised the market’s authorities to organize a sanitation department to dispose of their trash, “but the leadership disregarded this advice.”