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Liberia: Residents of Clay-ashland Stranded as City Mayor ‘Unable’ to Account for 400 Bags of Cement for Rehabilitation of Fallen Bridge

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Residents of Clay-ashland including students, market women and people with disabilities now find it difficult to commute since the collapse of the bridge while the City Mayor is unable to account for the 400 bags of cement donated for the rehabilitation of the bridge

Montserrado County – Residents of Clay Ashland City in Montserrado County have alarmed over the alleged misappropriation of 400 bags of cement given to their City Mayor.

Mayor Morris G. Richards was presented the bags of cement by Montserrado County Senator Saah H. Joseph for the reconstruction of a damaged bridge.

“The damaged bridge is causing us too many hard times because no car is coming in or going out; we can’t get anything. Sometimes, we walked from here to Iron Gate. It is a long journey for some of us. I have about 15 children going to school across the bridge. It is risky for them. I want for government to fix our road and bridge.”

– Rebecca Chea, 52, Resident of Clay-ashland

Clay Ashland City is considered as one of the many isolated areas in Electoral District # 17 in Montserrado County. The damaged bridge links Clay Ashland to the commercial township of Virginia.

For several months now, there have been reported claims and counter-claims amongst residents and officials of the city about the accountability of the cement.

Meanwhile, school-going children are reportedly finding it difficult to commute to-and-fro their respective campuses as a result of the deplorable condition of the bridge.

Marketers have also alarmed about the difficulties they face with transporting their produce to the market as prices of basic commodities including rice and gasoline continue to skyrocket. A cup of rice is on sale for L$70, while a gallon of gasoline costs between L$760 to L$800.

An eminent resident of the city, Koffa Sackor Nagbe, 66, claimed that since the donation was made by the Coalition for Democratic Change (CDC) lawmaker the mayor is yet to give account. 

He said the gesture was made possible based upon numerous appeals by several residents but the 400 bags of cement, which were kept in the home of the Chairman of the City Council, Prince Taweh, were allegedly uploaded and taken to an unknown destination based upon the order of Mayor Richards.

“I told Taweh that he connived with the City Mayor to sell the cement. The people sold the cement. I don’t know what they did with the money, because the bridge is still the same,” said Nagbe.

“We put people together to fix the bridge for our children and others. We gave them US$30.The City Mayor is responsible for our cement; because he told us that Saah Joseph said they should sell the cement after we brought it for safekeeping.”

Also, Rebecca Chea, 52, narrated how commercial vehicles and motorcycles are no longer plying roads since the bridge collapsed.

She said residents are now compelled to trek from the City to the Iron Gate checkpoint in Virginia Township before boarding a vehicle. From Clay Ashland City to Iron Gate is about 50 minutes’ walk on foot and 20 minutes’ drive on a motorcycle.

“The damaged bridge is causing us too many hard times because no car is coming in or going out; we can’t get anything. Sometimes, we walked from here to Iron Gate. It is a long journey for some of us. I have about 15 children going to school across the bridge. It is risky for them. I want for government to fix our road and bridge,” she Madam Chea.

“We are facing too many problems because of this bridge. We are doing business and for people to buy it’s not easy. All of our activities have seized because of this bridge.”

Mayor Morris G. Richards, Mayor of Clay-ashland was accused of misappropriating 400 bags of cement provided by Montserrado County Senator Saah Joseph for the rehabilitation of the damaged bridge

Physically Challenged affected

H. Boima Fahnbulleh is a young physically-challenged Liberian, who is the Co-Chairman of the group of 77 in the City. He says the current state of the bridge is causing hardship for people with disabilities. 

“The free movement of us (disabled) is difficult. I am a construction man too, and no contract is coming because of the collapsed of the bridge. People are not bringing in their construction materials to build,” he said.

Fahnbulleh also said he had also gathered that the Mayor was misappropriating the cement. 

“We heard that the Mayor was giving the cement out to other people. Whether it was for pay or safekeeping, I don’t know because there was no meeting held. I am a friend of the Mayor, but I don’t know anything about the cement,” he said.

“On the first day of the cement leaving, I was on the scene. We never knew how Prince Taweh was giving the cement out without the consent of the citizens because, he made a promise that before the Mayor takes any cement from his house, the Mayor will give a receipt and let the body to know.” 

Reactions from Clay-ashland City authorities

When contacted, Clay Ashland City Mayor 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 the cement 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.

“We put people together to fix the bridge for our children and others. We gave them US$30.The City Mayor is responsible for our cement; because he told us that Saah Joseph said they should sell the cement after we brought it for safekeeping.”

Koffa Sackor Nagbe, 66, an eminent resident of the city

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.

Meanwhile, the Mayor has revealed that authorities of the Ministry of Public Works have promised to prioritize the reconstruction of the damaged bridge during the dry season.

According to him, the commitment was made following a meeting held between authorities of the Ministry and officials of Clay Ashland City Corporation on Friday, September 20, 2019 at the Ministry of Public Works compound in Monrovia. 

For his part, the Chairman of the Clay Ashland City Corporation’s Council, Prince Taweh 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 the construction. The cement was given to the residents to pay in due course. There is no cement in the warehouse now.”

Senator’s confirmation

Speaking in a telephone interview to FPA on Tuesday, October 30, Senator Joseph clarified that Mayor Richards had earlier begun the sale of the damaged cement prior to seeking his advice.

He pointed out that he requested the Mayor to give the cement to residents free of charge, with a promise to make another donation during the start of the bridge reconstruction.

According to him, the reconstruction of the bridge would cost about half a million United States dollars. But assured that he remains committed to working along with the community to address the situation.

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