Faced with enormous sanitation challenges, Liberia’s president, George Weah, has appointed a special committee to lead a campaign for the ‘comprehensive’ cleaning-up of Liberia’s 15 county capitals.
Led by the Ministry of Public Works, the committee has a 90-day action plan to clear the multi-tonne rubbish heaps seen at marketplaces and on the streets of Monrovia and other cities.
The committee was mandated to start work ahead of the celebration of Liberia’s 174th independence anniversary on July 26.
The president is keen to see the new initiative work, but without the needed funding and logistical support, it is feared the exercise could encounter similar constraints that have impeded the efforts of city governments to tackle difficult sanitation problems over the years.
A filth-strewn marketplace in Monrovia.
The campaign is co-chaired by the Monrovia City Corporation (MCC), with the Ministries of State, Justice, and Finance & Development Planning, Internal Affairs and Health and the Environmental Protection Agency, among others.
A statement from the presidency called the initiative ‘part of the government's reform measures on the efficient management of sanitation’, especially in marketplaces.
‘The government of Liberia takes very seriously the health and livelihood of every Liberian citizen, including [market traders] around the country, especially during these crucial times of our collective fight against the Covid-19 pandemic,’ the presidential statement read.
President George Weah speaking to reporters.
Despite international goodwill to strengthen the capacity of the Monrovia City Corporation, the city is faced with enormous sanitation challenges, with heaps of rubbish often seen all over the place.
The capital of Africa’s oldest independent republic, Monrovia was built in the 19th century to accommodate less than 300,000 people. Today it is home to over 1.5 million people.
Social analysts say the amount of waste on the streets and the problems with filth-clogged drainage, speak to a clear lack of properly designed strategy for waste collection and management. The city government cites lack of logistics and funding.
Ruling party supporters and government functionaries see the president’s move as one that will finally resolve Liberia’s long-standing problem of poor sanitation.
The newly appointed deputy information minister, Jarlawah A Tonpo, told NewsAfrica he was elated by the clean-up plan.
‘This is a welcome initiative by the president, who is working hard to see to it that we as a people can live in a clean, safe and peaceful society.’
He added: ‘It is anticipated that all of our citizens will see this initiative to help the Special Presidential Clean Up Team to also clear their environments as well. Let us remember, cleanliness is next to godliness.’
A propaganda/promotional billboard erected in Monrovia portraying the president as a man who's working hard.
Pastor Barney E Cooper, a close follower of happenings in government, said he thought the exercise would succeed in transforming Liberia’s ‘dirty’ cities, especially Monrovia.
He said it was imperative the ‘right people’ were chosen for the task and the committee is able to keep a lid on possible corruption. ‘I am hopeful that this initiative helps the city and give it a clean look.’
Government critics are less optimistic about the project.
The opposition’s Menipakei Dumoe dismissed the scheme as a ‘gimmick’, adding: ‘The various local government structures, especially the Monrovia City Corporation, are poorly run as a result of incompetence and corruption.’
A former midterm senatorial candidate, Dumoe said the committee’s mandate is too broad ‘and seems to be more about evicting traders without making necessary provisions for their relocation’.
He also decried ‘gross abuse’ of rights by the special committee, concluding that it was ‘very unlikely to succeed’ as a result. ‘If anything, we can expect huge backlash and abandonment of the 90-day plan,’ he added.
‘This is another one of Weah's many failed public initiatives.’
His assessment was echoed by Mohammed Ali, secretary-general of the opposition Unity Party.
He told NewsAfrica that the president’s decision to set up a committee on sanitation is an admission that the municipalities in charge of Monrovia and other cities ‘are ineffective and are not performing a major component of their statutory duty’.
‘The president should rather endeavour to appoint competent, capable and experienced mayors and give the necessary support to enable the corporations of the various cities to function properly.’