Street vendors have called on the Monrovia and Paynesville City Corporations to create an enabling environment that will ensure their safety and protection.
In an investigation conducted by the Daily Observer, after witnessing scenes of confrontations between police and street vendors in central Monrovia, Duala and Red Light Market, several street vendors said they are victims of harassment because their goods are frequently seized by police officers from both cities.
“Our goods are returned to us only when we pay something like L$150 or more to the officers,” said a Red Light street vendor who said his goods had been seized on several occasions.
“Laws are made to protect peaceful citizens and residents. But when a situation becomes a tussle involving citizens and authorities, then a solution needs to be found,” added another street vendor.
“We are treated like foreigners in our own country,” said a young woman who also confessed to bribing officers to retrieve her goods. She said that the government of Liberia should be decisive and build them a marketplace.
However, Paynesville City Corporation officers told the Daily Observer that selling on the streets violates the city’s ordinance forbidding the activity.
Some street vendors also claimed that a lack of selling spaces compels them to sell in the streets. “What else can we do since we need to sell to make a living?” asked another street vendor.
But MCC and PCC officials insist that “selling should not be done in the street because it is against city ordinance. Selling should be done in the marketplace in every community, under the Liberia Marketing Association.”
Another man, who said he has been “a victim of police seizure of his goods” on several occasions, causing him to lose thousands of Liberian dollars, said “there is not enough space to accommodate street vendors so I think the various authorities should find a way out for us because we need to make a living. We cannot go out to steal to survive.”
He admitted that due to the constant losses, he owes his business associates thousands of dollars. “This makes life unbearable,” he told the Daily Observer.
Many of the people described the act of police seizing their goods as “too frustrating.”
Officers of MCC admitted to seizing goods from street vendors and turning them over to orphanages in Monrovia.
Though they did not mention the orphanages that received the seized goods, officers could also not explain why the goods were used as donations.
“It is against the city ordnance to sell in the streets,” said an MCC officer.
PCC officers also explained that street vendors had been warned about breaking the city ordinance that bars them from selling on the streets. They threatened that goods will be seized if people continue to sell in the streets.
“Every day they will come and sell in the streets despite all the warnings they have received,” said a PCC officer, who asked not to be identified because he was not authorized to speak to the media. “We need to keep the city clean and therefore we cannot allow vendors to sell anywhere they want.”
PCC officials said street vendors are people who have refused to remain in their various marketplaces, and have opted to sell in the streets instead.
“They think they can make more money in the streets and that is why they refuse to go to available marketplaces,” a PCC official said.
Liberia National Police (LNP) sources admitted to the Daily Observer that the situation deserves better handling since they are aware of the occasional tussle between city police officers and street vendors.
“We know it is not healthy,” LNP sources said, “that is why the various city corporations should come together and come out with some kind of solution.”
LNP sources said the potential danger facing street vendors is one of their major concerns.
“Any vehicle can swerve and hit anyone selling in the street,” they said, “hence it is important that the affected parties (city corporations, LNP, market associations and vendors) find some solutions once and for all.”