Acquisition of vacant lots for vendors proposed
Meeting with President on today

By Desiree Jodah
Stabroek News
October 10, 2000

Councillors of the Georgetown Municipality yesterday passed a motion to seek government's leave to acquire vacant lots, particularly in Water, America and Regent streets for vendors, who have been barred from selling on Regent Street, to ply their trade. The motion tabled by A Good and Green Guyana (AGGG) councillor, Llewellyn John, was passed even as a meeting requested by President Bharrat Jagdeo with members of the Mayor and City Council (M&CC) and vendors is expected to be held at 1500 hrs today.

The M&CC, on September 30, dismantled all stalls belonging to Regent Street vendors following the dismissal of an injunction which the vendors had obtained against City Hall. The injunction had prevented the M&CC from removing the vendors. Vendors since then have been involved in peaceful protest marches around the city.

According to the motion, "where provided by the Municipal District Council's Act Chapter 28:01, that the M&CC is empowered with the leave of the Minister responsible for Local Government, to use powers of compulsory acquisition by notice to treat where land is required for public purpose."

The motion noted that the current situation facing the municipality to find accommodation for vending as a result of the lack of space could be eased by the acquisition of sites in the Stabroek and Lacytown areas. Councillors voted in favour of the municipality seeking the leave of central government to acquire vacant sites, more particularly in Water, America and Regent streets to alleviate the vendor problem.

Councillors were involved in a heated debate for and against the motion, with AGGG councillor Harold `Lightweight' Kissoon "smelling a rat" and PPP/Civic councillor Randolph Harris burning anything that was on his property without his consent.

The AGGG was supported by all but one of the PNC councillors. Mayor Hamilton Green voted against the motion; one of the three PPP/C councillors abstained; one PNC councillor did not respond. In all 15 councillors voted in favour of the motion, four against and two abstained.

John, arguing in favour of the motion, listed a plot of land at the corner of Regent and Camp streets; land belonging to one Bagh Khan in the Stabroek Market area; open spaces at the corner of Croal Street and Avenue of the Republic (next to Satro's General Store); Longden and Croal streets; and the former Bettencourt's Store site on Water Street.

Harris argued that there was a lot of ambiguity in the motion. He said the council could not take away people's property and give it to vendors. He said if it was his property he would burn everything. Harris opined that no minister would agree to take away people's property for vending and that only the state could compulsorily acquire property.

Kissoon said that for years he had been quoting the section for compulsory acquisition, but no one listened. He said among suggestions he had made were that facilities be built for vendors at the corner of Main and New Market streets. He had also suggested that the museum be removed from its present location and housed at Castellani House and facilities put in that location for vendors. Kissoon declared: "I smell a rat. Political confrontation is the rat I smell."

PPP/C councillor Prabhudial Sattan also thought that the motion was not clear. He said the motion did not specify the open spaces in Lacytown. He questioned how many vendors could be accommodated at the vacant lot at the corner of Camp and Regent streets. Sattan was also against the acquisition of people's property for vendors to ply their trade.

Oscar Clarke, leader of the PNC side, in supporting the motion saw it as providing an ample opportunity for pre-empting the meeting with President Jagdeo. He said the motion was one of the many ways in which to tackle the vendor problem.

Describing the vendors as an "army of small business people," trying to make a living, Clarke said there was a need to revisit all options. He pointed out that vending on the pavements traditionally took place in the commercial zone. He said it was time for serious action to be taken to provide the vendors with an opportunity to make a decent living.

AGGG's T. Anson Sancho thought the motion was unnecessary. He opined that the compulsory acquisition of private property would pose a problem for City Hall. Sancho was also worried about the meeting with President Jagdeo. He wondered whether the President would try to persuade the council to adopt the Prime Minister's proposals, which had been dubbed by Green as "nonsensical."

He suggested that the team meeting the President should arrive at a conclusion about its position before the meeting. Sancho said he did not think the President was inviting the council to discuss any new proposals and if he did, he (Sancho) would personally congratulate him.

Green described the motion as having been prepared in great haste. He said it made dangerous suggestions pertaining to open spaces. Green said he had no problem with the philosophy of the motion, but that it made a presumption of what public purpose may or may not be. The mayor, reminding of the Town Plan for the development of Georgetown, said it was wrong and unfortunate that open spaces were only seen as being needed for vending. He said that as a group, council should not compromise on open space for historical purposes, sports and other recreational facilities. He said there was competition for space.

John argued that the motion was being misunderstood. He explained that compulsory acquisition was the last step, as "notice to treat," meant that notices would be sent to owners of the properties asking them to meet the council to discuss their intentions pertaining to their property. He said owners could lease their properties or agree to temporary use. However, if within 14 days there was no response from owners, the council could go ahead with compulsory acquisition with the consent of the subject minister.

Deputy Mayor Robert Williams expressed concern about members of the delegation representing Regent Street vendors. According to Williams, spokesperson for the vendors Mansa Amin, has been allocated a stall number one in Orange Walk and has been occupying it since 1997. He also named Valerie Hinds, Donald Clarke and Elvina Clarke, who he claimed had stalls on Orange Walk and in Bourda Market.

Meanwhile, the M&CC's legal department is contemplating a course of action pertaining to what was described as "deprecate and snide remarks" allegedly made by Sunrise Show host Clem David on Channel Six pertaining to the vendor issue. According to the M&CC, David allegedly made the remarks against the mayor, the deputy mayor and the town clerk.

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