MONROVIA — Hundreds of residents of Clay Ashland City and surrounding communities in Montserrado County are reportedly encountering severe hunger and hardship as a result of the hike in the prices of basic commodities following the collapse of a bridge which was being constructed in the area and the mysterious disappearance of 400 bags of cement donated by Senator Saah Joseph towards the project.
Clay Ashland is one of the isolated cities located in electoral district 17, Montserrado County.
Residents of the city woke up to the news that the only bridge, which connects the area with the township of Virginia, has been wiped away due to the heavy downpour of rain during the morning hours of Monday, July 11.
The incident prevented medical workers, students and others from going about their normal working and academic activities from as far as Millsburg and Arthington in the same district.
Marketers are unable to transport their products or goods to the market as a result of the incident
The prices of basic commodities, including rice, oil, and others have sky rocketed. A cup of rice which was sold for about L$50 has increased to L$75, while a small bottle of cooking oil has climbed to L$225 from its previous price of L$100.
A sachet of mineral water which was previously sold for L$130 has climbed to L$200. The locals are said to be catching hell.
Speaking in an interview with FrontPage Africa on Tuesday, July 12, one of the youth leaders of Clay Ashland, Joseph McCauley disclosed that the bridge which was undergoing construction was substandard.
He claimed that for too long residents of the area have complained that the bridge was not guaranteed and as such, goodwill individuals and other citizens decided to make contributions towards the project.
According to him, a committee, which is headed by the Chairman of the City Council Prince Taweh, was set up to undertake the initiative.
“The bridge that was constructed here before was damaged several years ago and the citizens decided to go around collecting some funds. The committee head brought the idea of a mobile money account. He failed to call people who have the technical know-how to do something better on the bridge. According to some citizens, Mr. Taweh allegedly collected approximately US$5000 and the bridge that they constructed two days rain took everything away. It is not really easy since the bridge collapsed”.
McCauley stated that for the past two days, nurses and doctors working at the A F Russell clinic in Clay Ashland have been unable to go to work from Monrovia (where they are residing).
He stated that the lives of pregnant women and other patients admitted at the facility are being threatened due to the current situation.
The locals are not sitting supinely and folding their hands to allow the incident to cause a serious disaster or overwhelm them.
They are exerting efforts to construct what they called a “detour quick impact bridge” to help alleviate some of the constraints they are faced with.
“Since yesterday, the young people agreed to get together to make a quick impact footpath bridge for other people to be able to move in and out to get their daily activities going” McCauley stated.
Richard Bartee is also one of the local engineers on the project. According to him, the decision taken to find an alternative was due to the escalation of the already intensifying constraints the citizens are encountering.
He said the move is intended to ensure that residents can go to their respective job sites and business centers unhindered,
“Because of the disaster, our people and others who are selling have stopped all activities-they are not going anywhere. Right now, the hunger here is not easy. For the construction of this detour bridge, there is no money. We found old planks from in the water which have been condemned and we tried to put it together”.
Bartee emphasized that though the quick impact pathway that is being constructed cannot be totally guaranteed as compare to the concrete bridge that previously existed, he believes that it will help the locals to move from one place to another until funding is provided to recommence the project.
“We have manpower also here helping the children that are going to school by crossing them across the river one by one. We are even crossing some women by holding their hands to cross them. We also have some people here who are helping motorcyclists to cross their motorbikes in the meantime”.
He recalled that though they have been the ones constructing the bridge during times of disasters, the decision taken by Mayor Richards to divert funds to his buddy Taweh for the reconstruction, which was not properly done, did not go down well with the young people.
H. Boima Fahnbulleh is the Chairman of the quick impact project. According to him, residents are disappointment that monies and donations received over the years have not been used to complete the bridge.
He said the bridge project has suffered series of setbacks due to alleged connivance on the part of some local authorities.
He wants the City Mayor and Prince Taweh to take responsibility of the situation.
For several years now, the Clay Ashland Bridge reconstruction project has suffered multiple strangulations.
In 2019, residents of the area raised alarm over the alleged misappropriation of 400 bags of cement given to their City Mayor; Morris G. Richards by Montserrado County Senator Saah H. Joseph for the reconstruction of the bridge which was damaged shortly after numerous appeals were made.
Mayor Richards took a unilateral decision to safeguard the cement in the home of his closed confidante, Prince Taweh-a move which prompted the locals to raise the alarm.
The citizens complained that the cement were offloaded from Mr. Taweh’s residence during the night hours and taken to an unknown destination.
“As I speak to you now, Prince Taweh is in his house. He’s shame to come outside”, Bartee stated
Rat ate the cement
McCauley disclosed that the mysterious manner and form in which it was reported that “rat ate the cement or the cement caked” continues to ring bell in the ears of the locals.
He noted that residents are disappointed over the different tales that are being told about the lawmaker’s donation.
“Whenever we are talking about the bridge construction, people will always make reference to the 400 bags of cement that were given by Senator Saah Johnson. You know in Liberia when things just happened, people will intensify it but when few time past, they will forget about it. But people still bringing fresh memory back. Like yesterday, people got vexed that the bridge collapsed and they wanted to go and attack the current head of the bridge project Mr. Prince Taweh and the Mayor,” he stated.
Mayor threatening to sue?
McCauley continued: “The citizens are unhappy because some people said the cement was distributed on the citizens because it was ‘caked’ and others said the cement was eaten by rats-that’s the funny part about this. Nothing good we can get or hear about that cement. You can’t even find one bag again. The Mayor can’t even address the issue properly; he’s always threatening to sue people”.
He alleged that for years now, Mayor Richards continue to brag that he is not accountable to citizens of the city, but only President George Manneh Weah who appointed him in government.
Mayor Richard speaks
When contacted, Clay Ashland City Mayor at the time confirmed the receipt of 400 bags of cement and US$200 from Senator Joseph as the initial contribution towards the bridge reconstruction.
However, Richards termed as “diabolical lies” accusations that he sold the cement and used proceeds generated for his personal aggrandizement.
He said the prolonged stay of the cement in a warehouse belonging to the Chairman of the City Council rendered it unusable.
Mayor Richards pointed out that he ordered the distribution of the cement to over twenty (20) residents of the city after he was allegedly requested by Senator Joseph to do so.
He claimed that though he previously sold the cement for a reasonable amount to some residents, the Montserrado County Senator lately requested that the cement be given to the residents free of charge.
“Instead of coming to find out, they go loitering around giving out false information. They are giving information that is only intended to assassinate the character of a good person. The cement stayed in the warehouse. I wanted to sell the cement and open an account, but the Senator said no,” Mayor Richards stated.
He, however, failed to disclose the names of the beneficiaries or present documentation stating the names, telephone numbers, or addresses of residents who benefited from the donation of the “caked” cement.
When contacted about the latest collapse of the bridge on Monday, Mayor Richards refused to comment.
For his part, the Chairman of the Clay Ashland City Corporation’s Council, Prince Taweh at the time confirmed that the 400 bags of cement were kept at his house, but it was taken away and distributed by City Mayor Richards.
“This is one year now since the disaster. It took place last year July, and this year July again. Public Works came to help us, but the situation still remains. We fixed a managing area for citizens to pass, but it’s not safe,” he noted.
“I stored the cement at my house from December to August 2019. Most of the cement turned to cake; it could not be used for construction. The cement was given to the residents to pay in due course. There is no cement in the warehouse now.”
He refused to respond to text messages sent him on Tuesday on the allegations raised by the citizens.
The citizens’ plea
Meanwhile, residents of Clay Ashland are calling on central government and other humanitarians and philanthropic organizations operating in Liberia and the diaspora to come to their aid.
Citizens could take the law into their laws if steps are not taken to ensure that local authorities of Clay Ashland give account of the 400 bags of cement given by Representative Joseph for the bridge reconstruction.
Already, the citizens, especially young people are unhappy and share the view that monies and donations intended to reconstruct the damaged bridge have not been used for the intended purpose.
Human casualty is eminent if the quick impact detour bridge constructed by the youths of Clay Ashland is not restricted to ensure that school-going children and old folks or guided or have easy crossover.