Somalia Drive Residents Complain of Extortion

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Certain individuals, dressed in jackets resembling the uniform of Paynesville City Corporation employees, are allegedly taking advantage of the ongoing demolition exercises along the Somalia Drive to extort money from residents under false pretences, sources hinted to the Daily Observer.

Residents along the Somalia Drive, especially those in the neighborhood of the Paynesville City Corporation –areas affected by the demolition exercise – alleged that they were coerced by “workers” wearing jackets resembling PCC employees to give them money to spare their structures.

According to some of the affected residents, when the project started before the outbreak of the Ebola virus disease (EVD), buildings within 75ft of the road were earmarked for demolition.

They alleged that since the work resumed, the “PPC workers” are now going beyond the initial 75ft demarcation for the removal of structures in the right-of-way.
The residents made the disclosure during a Daily Observer interview last week, insisting that their structures were not initially marked for demolition.

Demolitions along the road began last year but were halted due to the outbreak of the EVD, which led residents to start reconstructing on the demarcated right of way. This, however, prompted the current exercise by the Public Work Ministry and collaborators to push them back, a situation they alleged is being presently exploited by “rogues pretending to be PPC employees.”

The exercise is in preparation for the pavement of the road, which is to be constructed into a two-lane thoroughfare from the Freeport of Monrovia to the commercial district of Paynesville.

The Japanese government-funded Somalia Drive Road project was halted last year when contractors of Dai Nippon, a Japanese Construction Company implementing the project, left Liberia as the result of the outbreak of the Ebola virus disease.

They are now back in the country.

Initially, a demarcation of 75ft was set and a demolition exercise was begun last year after the government and its partners had compensated those who had structures along the road.

The current demolition exercise is being carried out by the Ministry of Public Works (MPW) in collaboration with Liberia National Police (LNP), Monrovia City Corporation (MCC) and the National Investment Commission (NIC).

A resident of Jacob Town, Morris Kamara, told the Daily Observer that prior to the arrival of the demolition team, men allegedly dressed in PCC jackets came to his structure and marked it with “Remove! MPW” and later came back to ask for money to spare his container.

“This is a very bad practice. They (started) coming here like they work with the people and started marking our structures, which were never part of the initial exercise, just because they wanted to collect money from us,” he complained.

William Karwor, another resident around the 72nd Junction area who was asked to pay L$3,500, said, “Owners of structures that were (with) in the limit for road construction were compensated and removed. But to our utmost surprise, the officials, some of them from PCC, started coming beyond the limit with their yellow paint and started marking our houses.”

Karwor further noted that last Monday, employees believed to work for PCC who had marked their structures during the morning and afternoon hours, appeared in the evening and started demanding money to spare their structures.

“Because of the fear that we had, we started to put small things together to give to them but someone advised us not to give them anything because they were not the rightful people,” he added.

Though he could not identify those involved by name or position, Karwor who owns a provision store, said there were three of them, dressed in what seemed to be PCC jackets.

Relief, however, came to these residents, who could not sleep the night before, when the demolition team arrived and informed them that they were not going beyond the initial limit of 75ft.

“We got to know that the people who came to mark our houses were rogues and only came to put fear in us to collect money from us. But thank God we were patient,” said Ms. Williete Mulbah, who had set aside L$5,000 to pay to the bogus PCC workers.

Those who made the clarification, according to Ms. Mulbah, were from the construction company and MPW.

When contacted, the public information director at PCC, Jenny Jallah, said the PCC is involved in the demolition exercise, especially in areas under its jurisdiction, but denied that any of its employees were involved in extortion.

“We were only there to ensure that the proper things were done. We were working in collaboration with the MPW and were not doing anything beyond that,” Ms. Jallah, who was contacted via mobile phone yesterday, said.

The governments of Liberia and Japan in June of 2013 signed a US$50 million agreement for the reconstruction and expansion of Somalia Drive.

After the delay, the government announced weeks ago that the construction of the Somalia Drive will kick off this month. This was after President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf’s recent visit to Japan where she held talks with its leader Shinzo Abe.

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