'No Place to Sell'
-- Aggrieved market sellers express dissatisfaction
The Government of Liberia, after much delay, has finally ordered petty traders and others at Red Light to move to the Omega Market. The newly built market was erected during the administration of President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and was dedicated last year by President George Weah, taking on the name “14-Gobachop Market''.
With the hope that marketers would go there as soon as it was dedicated, the relocation dragged on until over the past weekend when the thousands of sellers woke up Sunday morning, July 11, to an order to vacate the area.
but could not get off his convoy.
The marketers, however, seem to be encountering difficulties securing a spot on which to swell at the new market ground. Besides the main market complex that could only accommodate registered sellers under the Liberia Marketing Association, the rest of the market ground has no stalls and it is a lowland area.
They have to backfill the swampy area to make it better for selling. Moreover, the space designated for the market sellers seems not wide enough to accommodate everybody, as thousands of sellers are to converge in this place to transact business.
President Weah convoy surprisely drove-by through the site yesterday,apparently to see for himself
Mary T. Kessellie, who sells greens at Red Light, said, “We were selling greens in Red Light and saw a yellow machine destroying tables. We were a distance from the main road, no spot, no space; we are sitting in the water and mud."
She said many of them have attempted to get a table space in the market building, but they have been denied on grounds that the place does not belong to 'green sellers'.
“No place to sell. They say no cassava and green sellers should enter the main building. We are just flowing everywhere here,” Madam Kessellie added.
Moses Tamba, a dry goods seller, complained that the market does not have a warehouse to store their goods and there is no toilet facility. He added that when he confronted his supervisor about the situation, he was referred to the Government of Liberia. “When we go to our leaders, they tell us to go to our government,” said Tamba.
Sarah Bernard, who sells cushions at Red Light, said, “No space, no warehouse, no toilet, and when you manage to get a space, somebody will take it from you.”
Ms. Bernard, who has been selling in Red Light for over 18 years said, “We were ordered to come to Omega forcefully without any place to sell. No space, the swamp and everywhere here are occupied.”
Edward Jallah, selling used clothes at Red Light, worries about his monthly loan payment to Access bank Liberia because of what he calls “the demonization at Red Light.”
At Red Light, Jallah believes that customers have known his spot and can go to him for business, but the location puts him in such disarray that he is in danger of defaulting on the loan.
Initially, sellers had complained that the Omega vicinity was too small and too far for them to go, but since Acting Public Works Minister, Ruth Coker Collins, said that the day of compromise and negotiation was over, market stalls were immediately demolished and everyone was ordered to move to Omega market, excluding store and shop owners.
The marketers are now roaming around the community in search of a place to either rebuild their tables or spread their goods on the ground. Unlike Red Light, which is the entry point of the capital, Omega Market is far from the main road.
As they continue the search for spots at Omega, the impatient marketers have started selling along the roadside near the Coca-Cola factory extending downward to the Omega market, thereby creating traffic congestion on this highway between Monrovia and Kakata.
The situation has also increased the cost of space at the Omega Market in the absence of clear information about the number of acres the market ground takes.
Narrating the government’s position on the issue of space at Omega, D. Emmanuel Wheinyue, Technical Focal Person at the Ministry of Internal Affairs, said: “Whoever sells or buys space, the person is doing so at his or her own risk.”
Though he did not give the total number of acres owned by the government at the market, he disclosed that the place (Omega) belongs to the Government of Liberia and, as such, nobody has the right to sell any spot.
According to him, other buildings will come up including warehouses and toilets to accommodate additional market sellers.
“When Omega market was built, we had few warehouses but there are a lot of other facilities that will come. The Ministry of Internal Affairs and private partners will go into an arrangement where people will build units of stores and shops and then they can be leased to the business people, but now we are focusing on relocating the market,” said Wheinyue.
Richelieu Phillips, Omega Community Chairperson, said, “Though we welcome the marketers, we are beginning to see it as a 'curse.'
He complained that there is no toilet facility and marketers are already beginning to make heaps of dirt.
According to him, he has received complaints from residents that marketers have started to encroach on their lands, claiming that President Weah has mandated them to sell anywhere. “Our only recreation center, the football field, has been consumed,” said Mr. Philips.
There are reports that the prompt relocation was due to a warning issued by the Japanese government to the Government of Liberia that if they cannot complete the road works leading from Cocoa factory to ELWA junction before 2022, the government will pay a US$2.5 million fee.