…but may have to wait for two more years!
March 17, 2016 By Joseph S. Margai
Hundreds of traders who are displaying their wares on the streets of Freetown are eagerly waiting to occupy the proposed new market stalls at the Sewa Grounds, but they will have to wait for another 24 months to fulfill that dream.
At the moment, some 35 2ft 6inch stalls, constructed by the traders themselves, have been demolished at the grounds to make way for the proposed market stalls, with billions of Leones already spent on what the traders fear could turn out to be another white elephant project, thus a waste of scarce resources.
It could be recalled that the plan to construct new market stalls at the Sewa Grounds was borne out of the government’s avowed desire to get rid of thousands of traders that display their wares on major streets in the capital, Freetown.
With several failed operations to get traders out of the streets, including the much trumpeted ‘Operation Waste Disposal and Management, Improved Road Safety and Decongestion of City Streets (WID)’, launched by President Ernest Bai Koroma in January, 2013 with a view to evict traders from the streets in the capital’s business district, the government subsequently announced it would construct a market for traders at Sewa Grounds.
However, after years of little or no progress, despite the demolition of 35 stall, construction exercise has virtually stalled since September, 2015.
A trader at Rawdon Street, Mustapha Turay, told Concord Times that the 35 stalls that were demolished at the Sewa Grounds market site since September last year were constructed by traders themselves, adding that they spent Le17m to put up the stalls.
“Some of us had already started to operate our stalls as boutiques, salons, cosmetics, among others, when the government came in to demolish all of them,” he explained and added that though some of them were compensated their concerns are how long it would take to complete the delayed work.
Another businessman at Regent Street, Foday Bangura, said they recently saw Chinese people at the Sewa Grounds project site who have pasted wall bills on existing structures.
“We don’t know whether they are the ones that have been given the contract to do the construction work. We are not impressed at all, this whole thing about Sewa Grounds market is a mess because no work has been going on since September 2015,” he stated.
Residents of Freetown have expressed grave concern over overcrowding of principal streets by traders. The act of displaying merchandise and erecting makeshift stalls along major streets in Freetown has become an eyesore to both citizens and foreigners. This action cannot be unconnected with the fact that markets are just not enough for thousands of traders.
Project Coordinator of the Sewa Grounds Infrastructural Development Project, Winston Ojukutu-Macauley Jr., said the construction of “modernized” market stalls is funded by National Social Security and Insurance Trust (NASSIT), adding that makeshift structures and a long building were demolished in order to make way for the construction of a market mall.
“All those whose structures were demolished on Sewa Grounds have been compensated. I will not tell you the exact cost given to them as compensation because the structures vary,” he averred.
He maintained that when the proposed five-storey market mall would be completed, it will host seven thousand (7,000) legal street traders, adding that only legal street traders were counted and that hawkers were not counted because hawking is illegal in Sierra Leone.
He disclosed that the contractors of the project are from M.K.D. JASS, with the sub-contractors being Chinese from Global Group.
“Currently, the contractors have started what we call mobilisation, which is, bringing to the site their equipment and other things. The project is expected to be completed within 18-24 months,” he disclosed and added that the edifice would have a market mall, school and car park.
Asked about the total cost of the project, Mr. Ojukutu-Macauley said he could not tell because the cost was still being renegotiated, adding that due to the delay to complete the project, which he blamed on the Ebola outbreak, although the current government broached the idea of constructing the market immediately when they came to power in 2007.