Lack of accountability at the Liberian Marketing Association (LMA) leaves members dismayed over state of affairs
By David A. Yates & Alvin Worzi
There appears to be millions of Liberian dollars (equivalent to well over half a million US Dollars) collected in market fees across Liberia every year by the Liberia Marketing Association (LMA), an investigation by the Daily Observer has revealed. Despite claims by the LMA that fees collected are used to fund its operations, some members complained that they are yet to see what benefit they are getting from fees paid to the Association.
The LMA, now headed by Madam Alice G. Yeebahn, president, has thousands of members from whom they collect annual, weekly and daily fees (including on Sundays), the Daily Observer has learned. The LMA says that the fees collected are appropriated for administrative and operational purposes. But the people who pay the bill — market women and men (also known as marketeers) believe there is still much to be desired.
Some of the marketeers, who spoke to the Daily Observer last weekend, alleged that authorities of LMA are doing nothing to improve facilities, in spite of the regular collection of huge fees that they (marketeers) pay to the Association. They said this has hampered improvement in their life and businesses.
“We pay L$2,500 for registration, L$250 for ground fees, L$500 for identification card yearly and L$500 as yearly fees for a single selling spot. Just imagine all these monies we pay, with additional L$40 every Friday for storage and L$25 for ticket every day, yet the building is dark and without electricity,” a lady, only identified as Mary, said at the Rally Time Market.
According to her, the only light in the building comes from daylight that dims as one goes further into the market-house. She called on the government and its international partners to provide them with a generator, because most of the buyers are afraid of ‘zogos’ entering the building at night.
She said LMA authorities at times force them to pay a minimum fee of L$50 to L$100 in the event of illness or death of any member of the Association, adding: “People who refuse to pay that money, their goods will be taken to the superintendent’s office, and they will be forced to pay extra fees.”
There are more than a dozen major market buildings in urban Montserrado County. These are found mostly in Paynesville, central Monrovia and Bushrod Island. They include the Red Light, Du-Port Road, Paynesville, ELWA, Old Road, Jorkpentown, Rally Time, Water Side, Ma Juah, Duala, Gardnersville Super market and Barnesville markets.
A survey of two of these markets, Paynesville General (PGM) and Rally Time, revealed that within the market buildings alone, PGM has 328 stalls, while Rally Time has about 600. Each market stall (concrete table) has two selling spots. Sometimes one seller can registered for two of these spots (an entire stall).
The annual fees required by LMA are believed to be the same at all the above mentioned markets. That is a total of L$3,750 per selling spot. Therefore the stalls at PGM have the potential to raise up to L$2,460,000 per year; while those at Rally Time could raise at least L$4,500,000 per year. The combined amount, L$6.96 million, amounts to a little over US$53,000 at the prevailing Central Bank of Liberia (CBL) exchange rate (L$130.60/US$1). But these are only the annual dues because the LMA collects both daily and weekly fees.
The daily fee collected by LMA within the market hall is L$25 per selling spot. However, just between PGM and Rally Time, these daily fees amount to approximately L$14,523,200 each year, excluding Sundays. That’s just over US$111,000 according to CBL exchange rate. This is aside from the fact that Sundays are also selling days, though far fewer sellers turn out, and even then the daily fee is collected.
These are just two out of a dozen major markets in urban Montserrado County. All 12 markets, which vary in capacity but are comparable in size to either PGM or Rally Time, could therefore yield approximately L$94.1 million in annual and daily fees over a period of 12 months.
Where LMA says the money goes
LMA president, Alice G. Yeebahn, could not be reached for comment. Mamadee Keita, the spokesperson of the Liberia Marketing Association (LMA) said money collected from marketeers is used for the running of the Association.
“We are using the money collected to develop the various markets across Liberia. We don’t sell ticket on Sundays as claimed by some marketeers,” Keita said.
Earlier, Keita appeared to be avoiding a response to the Daily Observer’s inquiries. Therefore, our reporter reached out to former LMA President Madam Lusu Sloan, who was able to give clarity on some of the issues. Though the association is now in a ‘serious crisis’, she said the fees collected are supposed to go directly to garbage collection, salary payment, renovating buildings and rent for private lands that LMA has occupied.
Madam Sloan said not all the markets are directly under LMA’s supervision, but some are subscribing with the Association. She said LMA in Montserrado County has a total of 265 employees, with over 50 market building structures in Montserrado alone.
Keita did not give a time frame to respond to all the Observer’s questions, especially allegations emanating (coming) from the public that the LMA does not pay taxes.
However, D. Kaihenneh Sengbeh, director of press and public affairs at the Liberia Revenue Authority, confirmed that “LMA as an institution pays tax to government. They are in the Medium Tax Category,” he said. However he declined to say how much LMA pays, citing a privacy clause in the tax law.
According to the Domestic Tax Department of the LRA, the Medium Tax category is counted within the Medium, Small and Micro Tax Division, which “is the arm of the Domestic Tax Department responsible for managing the compliance of taxpayers with gross annual turnover of below thirty million Liberian dollars (below L$30,000,000).”
World Bank funded market rehabilitation
It maybe recalled that in 2007, The World Bank funded the rehabilitation of Rally Time Market, New General Market at Waterside and the Duala Market on Bushrod Island, to the tune of an estimated US $750,000. The rehabilitation exercise was implemented by the United Nations Development Program (UNDP). The projects were dedicated in December, 2007 by then President Ellen Johnson Sirelaf.
According to an Executive Mansion press release at the time, the LMA and each of the market superintendents signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the development partners. Under the terms of the MOU, the superintendents assumed responsibility for ensuring that the markets are kept clean and maintained. The World Bank Country Representative at the time, Luigi Giovine, promised the availability of solid waste facilities at the sites. The World Bank, he pointed out, would also provide parks and playgrounds to enhance the capacity of the facilities.
The World Bank had, at the time, announced that in January 2008, it would fund the rehabilitation of the annex to Rally Time Market.
The newly renovated and commissioned markets were equipped with facilities that included septic tanks and new toilet services, generators and electrical wiring for lighting and cold storage; poly tanks for water storage, new zinc roofs, improved drainage, plastering and painting work, the Executive mansion release said.
But according to marketers, the generator provided by the World Bank was sold and the revenue generated was diverted to their personal use. However, the then President of the LMA, Madame Lusu Sloan has refuted such allegations. In a telephone interview Saturday with the Daily Observer she explained that the generators broke down and could not be repaired owing to the lack of available spare parts.
And so, according to her, the disabled generator was broken down into parts and sold. Money realized from the sale was deposited into the LMA’s account, although she did not say how much was deposited. She further explained that matters concerning the sale of the generator as well as the day to day running of the organization falls strictly in the purview of the LMA Chief Executive officer, one Emmanuel Tumbay. Mr. Tumbay however could not be reached for comment up to press time.
Many markets are cluttered with heaps of garbage for days on end, until either the Monrovia City Corporation (MCC) or Paynesville City corporations are pressed to collect the waste.
“We are responsible to clean our various spots or else a risk fine. We don’t have anyone talking for us. Again, we are not together as business-people, which is creating a serious problem for everyone,” marketeers complained in various interviews conducted for this story.
Recently, the front view of Paynesville General Market has been seen overwhelmed by garbage. During the administration of Mayoress Cyvette Gibson of the Paynesville City Corporation, it was the City that was constrained to underwrite the garbage removal from in front of the market.
An official of N. C. Sanitors, one of Liberia’s two leading waste management companies, and a neighbor of the Paynesville General Market, told the Daily Observer that the company does not have a contract with the LMA. “It is only when the City Corporation wants to rent our equipment to clean up garbage at the market do we go there, but we do not have a contract with the LMA,” the official said.
The other leading sanitation service provider, Libra Sanitation, also confirmed that currently there is no contract with the LMA. The Libra official told the Daily Observer that they only had a “short-term contract with the LMA to collect garbage at Rally Time, during the tenure of former LMA president Lusu Sloan.”
“We want the government to pay someone to clean the market building for us, because all the money we are paying is not impacting our markets in the country, using money collected through tickets and also paying security as well. We want President Weah and Vice President Jewel Howard-Taylor to come and rescue us from these people who are collecting money without accountability,” the official said.
Unfortunately, none of the marketeers spoken to was able to say whether they have pressed the LMA for accountability. Judging by their response, it appears there is apparent ignorance (lack of knowledge) about how the small amounts that tens of thousands of marketeers literally pay daily is being used by the LMA.
Solomon Ware, director of press and public affairs in the office of Vice President Jewel Howard Taylor, told the Daily Observer that the relationship between the LMA and the VP’s office is to provide oversight on conflict laden issues between marketeers and the leadership. The VP recently met with LMA members and leadership, over concerns that the Association’s current president’s husband is alleged to have been involved in a murder case.
Thus they want their president, Alice Yeebahn, to step aside from the presidency. However, it is not clear whether issues concerning the array (large amount) of fees collected by LMA were listed as part of the meeting with VP Howard-Taylor.
“We pay money, no benefit”
Many marketeers believe that if the government takes ownership of the markets, especially under the Weah administration, it will help in addressing some of the current problems they are being faced with and it will help bring relief to them.
They complain that LMA has not been able to live up to its standards in ways that would help to improve the business environment. “They collect money from us without ensuring that we benefit from said money. We are just giving money to groups of people who are doing nothing for us,” the N.C. Sanitors official said.
There are thousands of market stalls across the various markets, which suggests that millions of dollars are being collected without a clear sense of accountability, another business woman told the Observer.
Another businesswoman, name withheld, also said that the LMA recently forced them to pay L$50 for chairs used at a convention that was held just last week. We argued that the money was too much considering the number of tables at these various Markets, but this was never taken into consideration.”
“We don’t force anyone to pay money,” LMA spokesperson Keita said, responding to claims of forced contributions.