City Hall under siege

by Linda Rutherford
Guyana Chronicle
October 3, 2000

CITY Hall returned to near normalcy shortly after 13:00 hrs (1:00 p.m.) yesterday after being held under siege for nearly three hours as irate street vendors resumed protests against their ejection from Regent Street Saturday by order of the court.

The catalyst was the appearance of Deputy Mayor, Mr Robert Williams, and his appeal to let order and good sense prevail.

"In dealing with this matter, no action that you are doing now can resolve it in the way it should. Therefore the safest remedy is that council, having been urged to take swift action, cannot be seen not to take action on a matter determined by the court," Williams said.

He said, however, that while it was their democratic right to continue their picketing exercise, which began Saturday, they also owed it to themselves and the public to exercise judgement and responsibility.

" one can stop you from picketing or protesting along here for how long or how late you want to; but what I am suggesting is that you should exercise judgement and responsibility; that you should allow the entrance to be clear so that the officials can move in and out freely," Williams said, raising his voice above the din to be heard.

Pockets of vendors, mainly women, had, since mid-morning, taken to blockading the Regent Street and Charlotte Street entrances north and south of City Hall, respectively, in an attempt to disrupt work there.

"Nobody in; nobody out!" they chanted, at the top of their voices at the Charlotte Street entrance. "No business doing today," they declared.

As a consequence, City Constables were forced to padlock the gates but with the intention of opening them as the need arose.

They were, however, prevented from doing so by the protestors.

Only members of the media were allowed to either enter or leave the compound.

Everyone else had to vault the fence. Ironically, it was the group which rose to the defence of Channel Six TV owner, Mr C.N. Sharma, who was initially prevented from entering the compound by overzealous City Constables.

He was grudgingly allowed in on the intervention of a senior City Hall official.

At the Regent Street entrance, the situation was the same, except that it seemed more volatile. One man of vast proportions lay prostrate in front of the gate in the broiling sun, refusing to budge even under threat of being run over by a vehicle.

The crowd, however, dissipated, not without some amount of token resistance and expletives, after seeing the wisdom in what Williams had to say.

He advised that they organise themselves into a small committee and approach either Labour Minister, Dr Henry Jeffrey or Local Government Minister, Mr Harripersaud Nokta.

"You should, if you have not yet done so, organise yourselves into a small committee that should begin speaking with the Minister responsible for Labour who has a duty to look at employment and people's livelihood or the Minister responsible for Local Government who manages the municipality and let this matter be dealt with urgently", Williams said.

He told them the reason they had lost their case was because their attorney had failed to turn up on the day of the court hearing.

The vendors had, since November 15, 1995, filed writs of Certiorari and Mandamus against City Hall, seeking to quash a decision to relocate them from Regent Street to other parts of the city. The order also sought to compel the municipality to permit them to continue to occupy the pavements and parapets along Regent Street for the purpose of vending their wares.

Justice Carl Singh, before whom the matter was, besides throwing out the case also ordered that the vendors pay a sum of G$75,000 in costs to City Hall.

The main Opposition People's National Congress (PNC) yesterday said it was monitoring the vendor situation and urged immediate action to redress what it termed "the worsening Regent Street sellers' crises".

City Public Reltions Officer, Mr Royston King said yesterday that while the municipality had no statutory or legal responsibility to provide an alternative location for the vendors, it was in the process of contemplating other ways of assisting them.

Yesterday's picketing exercise by the group estimated at more than 200, kicked off at around 07:00 hrs (7:00 p.m.) from outside City Hall, going east along Regent Street as far as the Bourda Post Office obliquely opposite the Bourda Market; down Robb Street past Freedom House and back to City Hall.

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