-- Omega residents accuse the Public Works Minister of selling the front view of their properties to business owners
When Yatta Siaway witnessed the relocation of the Red-light market to Omega, she was not happy.
Traffic congestion and high crime rate as a result of expected human traffic were some of the things she was worried about, but little did she know that the relocation could affect her land.
"I bought my land in 2005 and since then my family and I have been living here peacefully until the market was relocated here and the government started to claim our lands," Yatta said.
Madame Siaway, like many other Omega residents, has seen their lands being taken over by the government which claims ownership of the entire Omega Community land.
Members of the government hierarchy, including Monrovia City Mayor Jefferson T. Koijee, claimed that the entire Omega community is owned by the government, so the community residents do not have the legitimacy to any portion of land even if they bought it.
"When you find your spot, develop it, don’t be scared, and nobody should sell space to you. This entire place belongs to the government," Mayor Koijee told the marketeers.
Mayor Koijee's statement has led to homes being destroyed with victims mounting pressure for resettlement even though the government is yet to address the plight of the residents. The residents on the other hand are complaining that if the entire land belongs to the government as claimed, why did the government allow people to sell the area to them?
Although Madam Siaway's property has not been damaged, the Ministry of Public Works (MPW) has taken the front view of her house and given it to business owners to build stores and shops.
“They warned us not to put anything on our front view because they want to sell the area to other marketeers to build stores and shops. I am a businesswoman and I want to use my front view to build a shop,” she said.
“We voted for this government and see how they are treating us. Why will they want to give our front views to marketeers to build stores and shops? We want money too. We want to build stores to sell,” another angry community dweller, Marie Kollie, objected.
She said since the sellers moved in the area, Public Works employees and police officers assigned to carry out the facelift exercise have not been lenient with the residents. “They talk to us anyhow because this place belongs to the government. We bought this place with our money and we have our deeds,” she says.
Public Works Minister Ruth Coker-Collins has denied the accusations, shifting the blame onto the special presidential committee set up by President George Weah. According to her, the ministry does not give or sell the land to people in Omega. Instead, every decision that is made comes from the presidential committee.
Some time ago, President Weah appointed the Monrovia City Corporation and the Ministry of Public Works (MPW) to spearhead the entire Omega market project and ensure that the area is conducive for commercial activities.
With this mandate, MPW and MCC began backfilling the wetland to provide more selling space for the vendors who were then complaining about selling spots, toilets and warehouse facilities. A sub-committee was set up to be in charge of land distribution amongst marketeers.
MCC Public Relations Officer, Alpha G. Gray, claimed that during the cleaning up exercise they encouraged both the residents and the marketeers to join sub-committees that will qualify them to acquire spots to build stores or shops, but the community dwellers refused to participate in the exercise.
“I don't think they (residents) will find themselves under a specific organization or committee and you say that MCC or Public Works will take the land from them, It no '' Gray said.
Mary K. Mulbah, another resident narrating her ordeal, said that the Public Works officials requested that they (residents) get the ministry to get a blueprint book that will guide them on what and how to build on their front view. “We paid $US500 for this book, only for Public Works to send people here to come to build stores and shops,” she said.
Tom Nimely, who works in the Zoning Department at Public Works, clarified that the drawing book was never an indication that the front view belongs to the residents. He said the residents went with their deeds to the ministry, requesting a drawing. They paid for it and it was done.
“They brought their deeds and said they wanted to draw and we did it for them. They came and said they wanted a drawing. They paid what they were supposed to pay and we did their drawing. The drawing was never an indicator that the front view belongs to them," he said.
The frustrated residents early Wednesday morning, November 3, assembled at the office of their lawmaker, Montserrado County District #4 Representative Rustonlyn Suacoco Dennis, to call her attention to their situation.
In a letter addressed to Rep. Dennis, the community dwellers expressed frustration and fear over the continuous harassment and intimidation from security officers and the Public Works Minister.
“We, the peaceful citizens of the above address, are again complaining to you [of] the continuous harassment and intimidation that we are receiving from Public Works Minister, Madam Coker-Collins, Monlue of the Paynesville City Corporation, and the PSU commander of the Omega police depot, one Gabriel, [for] forcibly taking the front view of our lands and selling it to business owners.”
Upon receiving the letter, Rep. Dennis promised to convene a meeting between the Public Works Minister and the Paynesville City Mayor, to discuss the matter amicably.