Councillors back City's stance on Regent Street
Constables/vendors face off again

By Desiree Jodah
Stabroek News
October 24, 2000

The saga of the Regent Street vendors continued yesterday with city councillors pledging support for the City Constabulary in enforcing a court order and the fencing of the condemned building under which the hawkers had taken their trade.

It was another day of confrontation between members of the Constabulary and vendors who since September 30, have been barred from selling on the Regent Street pavement. Some vendors, after marching through the streets for two weeks, took up residence under the condemned building displaying their goods for sale. Since then, they have been involved in several clashes with city constables during which shots were fired and missiles thrown.

Vendors turned up at the trouble spot yesterday to find the Regent Street side of the building fenced. With only rotten wooden posts to display their wares and no open space to put up their makeshift structures, they placed wooden palettes across the drain in front of the building in defiance of the constables present. And as the city police attempted to remove the wooden obstacles, the vendors--mostly women--threw themselves across the palettes. Some were also armed with what they claimed was "sulfuric acid" (a noxious substance). Shouting that they "will sell",the hawkers declared that they would use the "acid" if the need arose. Some sat on the newly constructed fence, while others hung their items of clothing on the wire-meshed partition. They duly occupied the palettes, while the constables once again stood by helplessly.

And at the council's statutory meeting yesterday the majority of councillors pledged support for the actions of City Hall in enforcing the ruling of the court. Justice Carl Singh on September 29, dismissed an injunction which the vendors had obtained against the Mayor and City Council (M&CC) stopping their removal. They had since applied for a stay of execution of the judge's order. This matter comes up for hearing tomorrow.

PPP/C councillor Fitzgerald Agard in response to his colleague Patricia Woolford of the PNC, reminded that no solution could be reached in an environment of lawlessness. According to Agard, the vendors over the years have rejected all efforts to resettle them. He said under no circumstances should vendors be allowed to run City Hall. Agard contended that M&CC officials should not seek out vendors for discussion to settle the issue. According to him, vendors must obey the law. He contended that the courts had in some way contributed to the problem.

And A Good and Green Guyana (AGGG) councillor attorney-at-law Llewellyn John opined that the decision of Chief Justice Desiree Bernard in favour of the Water Street vendors might have sparked the confrontation. Justice Bernard had ruled that these vendors could continue their business in keeping with a licence which was issued to them by the M&CC. Under the licence, the vendors could sell until 1800 hrs providing they removed their structures at the end of the day. According to John, the contrasting decisions of the court were not sending a clear signal.

John also cited a case involving City Hall and the law firm of Hughes, Field and Stoby. He said the highest court in the land, the Appeal Court had the council on hold for about three years waiting for a decision in a matter where the council had proposed to erect a car park. John stated that the council had been prevented from carrying out its statutory duty of controlling traffic in the city. He said that the municipality was a victim of many court decisions.

The councillor also wanted city constables to be respected. He urged that in attempting to find a solution, the decision in favour of the Water Street vendors should be looked at. The lawyer also referred to the motion which was passed by the M&CC to serve "notice to treat." The motion which was approved by the majority of councillors proposed that owners of open spaces around the city be contacted with the aim of the council utilising their property for the relocation of vendors. According to John, if the owners did not respond with 14 days of receiving the notice, the M&CC was empowered to compulsorily acquire their land with permission from the minister responsible for local government.

AGGG councillor Patricia Chase Green, in her support for City Hall not allowing the vendors to return to Regent Street, said that the issue was not a political one as was implied. She said vending on the pavement was illegal.

Chase-Green contended that a some 30 or 40 vendors should not be allowed to run the show. She questioned what were the rights of the approximate 700 residents who pay their taxes.

Another AGGG councillor Shirley Shepherd contended that the vendors had taken over the pavements and persons could walk without coming into contact with the items on sale. She recalled several incidents where vendors were abusive to her and other persons who were unfortunate to come into contact with wares displayed while attempting to traverse the crowded pavement.

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