YARPAH TOWN, River Cess – Marie Zoegoe, superintendent of the River Cess’ chapter of the Liberia Marketing Association, has been suspended for 30 days alongside her deputy Luke Blodyu, who runs the Yarpah Town Market.
Liberia’s economy is heavily dominated by information trading and in rural areas like River Cess, markets play an oversized role. According to a case study on the Sirleaf Market Women Fund, the informal sector is heavily dominated by trading and 85 percent of daily market traders are women. Most of these women make under US$2 a day and improvements to markets can impact their income-generating capacity.
They two suspended persons will not have any power over marketing activities for at least the next 30 days after allegations were raised that they have mismanaged funds appropriated for improving the Yarpah Town Market.
A group of marketers in Yarpah Town known as the Sellers Union filed a formal complaint on September 14 to the commissioner of the Township of Yarpah alleging that both Zoegoe and Blodyu had been collecting funds from the sales of tickets and tables, and land rental fees for the past four years, but they have failed to improve the condition of the market. They cited the market’s lack of proper water and sanitary facilities, and the presence of a leaky roof, as proof.
The group requested that the commissioner conduct an audit. On September 28, Commissioner Sampson Mellish launched a preliminary investigation into the group’s complaints.
Blodyu and Zoegoe have not denied that marketing funds are being mismanaged, but they blamed each other for being responsible. During the investigation, Blodyu said he has not worked with the marketing association since July.
“Marie Zoegoe sacked me and replaced me with Calvin Bayee and Emmanuel Cee,” Blodyu said. “Since then, they are the ones been running the affairs of the market.”
Blodyu also told the commissioner that Zoegoe herself has been the one selling tickets and collecting other fees at the market. Additionally, he said he provided Zoegoe with funds to purchase cement for a pit latrine he had started, but Zoegoe did not purchase the cement.
“I dug the septic tank and all I needed was just four bags of cement,” he said. “Since last year November, I gave her the cement money. Ask her – she still has the money.”
Blodyu also said he loaned US$500 of the association’s money to market women “but Marie [Zoegoe] bypassed me and told the women not to pay the money back to me.”
In response, Zoegoe said Blodyu diverted all funds and materials belonging to the association for his personal use.
“I told him to use six months land rental fees to build the toilet. He used that to build his own latrine and my marketers don’t have any latrine,” Zoegoe said. “The man has refused to clean the market. When I go talk, he says I’m not working with the market again.”
Zoegoe, who denied replacing Blodyu with Bayee and Cee, told the commissioner that she was on her way to Monrovia and she told the two of them to run the affairs of the market in her absence.
“They were only there to clean the market, but they were not playing any administrative role.” She maintained. “I did that because Blodyu refused to clean the market and the market was dirty. The second thing I told them to do was to collect and keep every fund for the market.”
Commissioner Mellish suspended both Zoegoe and Blodyu from carrying on any administrative functions at the Yarpah Town Market as he launched a full-scale investigation into the matter.
They have been given until October 30 to submit detailed narratives and financial reports of funds received from 2016 to 2019. After these documents are submitted, Mellish said a committee will be set up to conduct the audit requested by the complaining group.
“For now, we will set up another committee that will run the affairs of the Yarpah Town Market until the investigation is concluded,” Mellish said. “For now, we can’t tell who is speaking the truth until we can get hold of those documents.”
The five persons appointed by the office of the commissioner to run the market during the investigation are Sylvester Kangar as chairman, Janjay Wheh as secretary, Rebecca Ziankan as treasurer, Peter Kardyu as ticket controller, and Mary Garsuah as a regular member.
Featured photo by Eric Doue