MONROVIA, Montserrado – The Managing Director of the General Services Agency has been sweeping across Monrovia in a campaign to clean the city and demolish make-shift shelters that were built in public alleys and streets.
Mary Broh, a confidante of President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, was recently appointed to head the Presidential Task Force aimed at beautifying Monrovia and surrounding cities. The operation has left many residents homeless and in tears. It has even earned Broh the nickname “Hurricane Mary.”
The task force’s mandate to clean Monrovia and others cities officially starts on November 15 and lasts until December 15, 2015, but Broh said there is no timeline needed to clean the city.
During a recent clean-up exercise at the Ducor Hotel, she said the demolition of houses is being carried out by the Ministry of Public Works’ zoning department and not by her task force.
“Houses being demolished are those that are in the alleys including other make-shift houses that are very close the road,” Broh said.
When asked whether residents were provided with ample notice to relocate and get their belongings out, Broh said Liberians are being informed through announcements on various radio stations concerning the scope of operations of the task force.
“Liberians that are complaining about the lack of awareness from the task force know the names of all the football teams in the world and which games are won each day,” Broh said.
She said the president would not take 9 to 10 years informing residents about the clean-up exercise.
The public announcements Broh referenced are general statements that do not specify which houses would be broken down or when.
Deputy Public Works Minister for Technical Services Claude Langley spoke with a group of residents in the Rock Hill community near the Ducor Hotel. He told the residents whose houses were being marked for demolition that only homes and shelters located in alleyways would be affected.
Langley encouraged residents of these homes to dispute the planned demolition of their property by submitting documents supporting their claims that their property had the proper permits to be constructed.
“These houses will not be demolished until the order comes from the Public Works Ministry,” Langley assured the Rock Hill community residents.
Despite his claims that residents could appeal the planned demolition, The Bush Chicken observed several demolitions that occurred within an hour of the houses being marked for destruction, with little time afforded property owners for disputes.
Owners are also not being compensated and neither are they provided temporary shelters by the government.
Some residents have been forced to sleep outside with their belongings after the demolition because they said they were not given prior notice to allow them to find alternate homes.
Although many Liberians generally agree with the aims of the task force, some believe the team is over overstepping its bounds in the sometimes harsh methods and impromptu manner in which the operations are conducted.
“Monrovia is filthy, and the task force is out to make sure that the city is clean,” Broh counters. She said the Liberian children need to enjoy a clean, safe and healthy environment.
Broh said her team is not cleaning the city because of any upcoming event. She pointed out that even though the task force’s mandate is for a limited period, the president would put in place the right mechanisms to sustain the beautification of Monrovia.
She drew attention to open defecation practices in some parts of Monrovia, noting, “there are some Liberians who always want to see the city filthy.”
“We are tired of having a city that is filthy after 168 years of independence,” Broh continued. “I am not doing anyone’s job, but as a Liberian, I must help to make sure that the country is always clean.”
She said the task force is going to work with other city mayors to help them beautify their cities.
“The president has trust and confidence in all of us as government officials, and that is why we are amalgamating forces to make sure that the city is clean,” she added.
Esther Chea, whose house was demolished in the Ducor Hotel community said there was no prior notice from Broh about the demolition, adding “she had nowhere to go and will sleep beside her belongings outdoors”.
Speaking in tears to The Bush Chicken, Esther noted it had never been a plan for her family to stay in a makeshift house for all these years.
Following the demolition of several shops, entertainment centers and houses in the Jallah Town community, some residents are said to be planning a peaceful demonstration.
Robbin George, Youth Chairman, District 8 Youth Council said the demolition exercise carried out by both the task force and Public Works Ministry was shocking to many residents.
“Some of the affected residents of Jallah Town are still finding it very difficult to cope with the situation and have been made homeless because they were not given prior notice,” he said.
George explained that following the demolition exercise, Sirleaf visited the community last Saturday and apologized to the residents, noting “the Liberian chief executive asked them [residents] to write their complaints to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.”
“Unfortunately, there have been no fruitful results since we wrote our communications, and that is why residents of the community are planning a peaceful demonstration very soon to [remind] President Sirleaf about her visitation to the Jallah Town community,” George added.
He said though residents of the Jallah Town community welcome the cleaning of the city they noted that Sirleaf needs to revisit the scope of operations of the task force.
“The very government some of us voted twice into power cannot be cleaning the city and at the same time leaving us in agony,” he maintained.
In the many years she has spent as a public servant, Broh has courted controversy as much as she has received praises for her accomplishments.
In March 2013, she was suspended as Acting Monrovia City Mayor, after it was reported that she allegedly slapped a woman and humiliated others, including a staff member of one of a representative, for throwing trash on the street.
Broh’s actions sparked an outcry. As a result, lawmakers refused to confirm her as Mayor of Monrovia, which led to her resignation.
Broh has made her mark in government as a strong-willed public servant who has made state agencies effective by reducing corruption and improving efficiencies.
As head of the Passport Division at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, she significantly reduced the number of days for applicants to receive passports. In her appointment as Acting Mayor of Monrovia, she oversaw several beautification initiatives and improved sanitation, even instituting a monthly community cleanup.