A 'way of life' versus law and order

City Council Round Up
With Cecil Griffith
Stabroek News
October 9, 2000

Nine days after the Georgetown City Council, with the assistance of the High Court brought back sanity and order to the Regent Street pavement, the war of words and heated verbal exchanges continue unabated.

As is customary in such circumstances, views and comments abound in the media coming from the uninformed, the misinformed and the ill-informed. What is unfortunate is that in some instances, outlets are being provided for these people to vilify and indulge in personal attacks on whoever they believe is responsible for the removal of the vendors.

For example Mayor Hamilton Green has described a suggestion by Prime Minister Sam Hinds for the relocation of the Regent Street vendors as nonsensical. The Prime Minister had said consideration should be given to putting the vendors on empty lots as a temporary measure while at the same time identifying parts of Georgetown which can be used as parking areas for mini-buses.

The `chief citizen' himself and his deputy Robert Williams have been forced to appear on several television programmes, talk shows et al to defend themselves against personal attacks. During the past week it was difficult for any sensible person to believe some of the statements made and issued by the major players in the Regent Street vendor confrontation with City Hall. The public was told about private meetings between what was described as major stakeholders, and on investigation these never took place or the parties named denied any knowledge of such meetings.

While this was going on the vendors continued to demonstrate outside City Hall as the city constabulary beefed up its security inside the compound as a result of the threats to Mayor Green, his deputy and Town Clerk Mrs Beulah Williams.

During last week many vendors who have been accustomed to invading the Regent Street pavements displaying their goods with utter disregard for others who also have rights, could not resist the temptation, and could be seen gathered in groups at several points on Regent Street empty-handed. One vendor told me selling on the pavements has become for many of them a "way of life".

Speaking to another group outside one of the stores whose owner was elated that at last shoppers were free to enter his premises or look at the goods on display in his showcase, I was told that they expected the court to rescind the order by Justice Carl Singh, now an Appellate court judge, and they will be back "not too long from now".

An old problem
Reading, listening and watching the television news which over the past week has devoted much attention and coverage to the Regent Street vendor issue, the impression is being given that this is something new in Georgetown and like Columbus these so-called do-gooders as is the custom in this country engage in the usual finger pointing and blame game.

That the vendors from the time when Mayor Compton Young and even before his time, presided over statutory meetings of the city council have been used as pawns by some politicians, who were only interested in their votes at election time, was no secret.

It was Mr Young while in office who had attempted to deal condignly with those who had continued to occupy the pavements on Water Street, although accommodation was made available to them at the newly constructed Stelling View market close to the ferry stelling. This market soon became a white elephant as the vendors who were given stalls there flocked to Water Street reaching as far as Guyana Stores.

Mr Young, who headed a council appointed by the People's National Congress government together with the other twenty-nine councillors were asked to resign en bloc in 1993. Councillor Harold Kissoon who had signed a letter of resignation refused to do so.

With the advent of democracy after the six-month stint of the Interim Management Committee, in 1994 a new set of city `mothers' and `fathers' took up their seats around the horseshoe table.

A number of proposals were put forward by councillors to bring some order to Water Street, but to no avail, and with three political parties represented on the council the stage was set for politicking, name calling and the focus turning away from important issues of interest to taxpayers to the scoring of political points.

The vendors who claimed that they had been encouraged to continue and expand their occupancy of the pavements which they then controlled refused to engage in any talks with the council, using the courts as a last resort.

That the vendors deserve to be relocated in a suitable place in the city is an accepted fact, but this could only come about with the government, the city council and leaders of the vendors sitting down together and working out a solution agreeable to all sides.

It is my understanding that President Jagdeo has scheduled such a meeting for today. Mayor Green has said he would not speak to punks and hooligans, while admitting that he and the council never closed the doors to dialogue.

The city council as a body made up of the People's Progressive Party/Civic, the People's National Congress and the Good and Green Guyana must be prepared to come up with a workable plan which would once and for all solve the vendor issue on Regent Street. The vendors must not be encouraged to believe that they would retake the pavement on Regent Street, and return to their old ways. This also applies to those storeowners on the street who use the vendors as pawns in their business dealings. I find it strange that the Georgetown Chamber of Commerce and Industry up to the time of writing this column bas not issued a statement or commented publicly on the vendor issue... Why?

The food sellers
A new breed of pavement sellers has suddenly surfaced. In my last column I raised this question and I am doing so again. Would the Medical Officer of Health tell the council what measures are being taken to ensure that these people are properly registered as food handlers? And are they restricted to selling certain types of food as they move along the streets and pavements?

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