Vendors mull pending removal from Water Street
Council says it will act at end of month

Stabroek News
May 3, 2001

Water Street vendors are mulling their prospects following Chief Justice Desiree Bernard's ruling on Monday that they had to move completely by the end of the month.

The chief justice also ruled that the licence granted to the vendors by the Mayor and City Council giving them the right to sell on the street between certain hours was illegal.

It was obvious yesterday that some vendors did not understand the judge's ruling as they thought they had been given one month to build collapsible stalls, which they would remove at the end of the day. This was part of the agreement they had entered into initially when the council granted them licences.

However, Chief Justice Bernard had ruled on Friday that the council was clearly in violation of the city's by-laws, and therefore the licence was null and void and had no effect. "The licence is a nullity as the respondent had no authority to enter into it. Therefore everything which flows from that licence is a nullity," the judge ruled.

Shoppers could purchase from the proverbial pin to an elephant on Water Street; the area is one large multi-purpose market. When Stabroek News visited the area yesterday, the vendors were not eager to speak about the situation.

However, some of them were overhead telling their customers that they were selling their stocks cheap as they would have to remove by the end of the month.

Joycelyn Cornette, who has been a vendor in Water Street for the past few years, said she thought the ruling was wrong as they didn't have any jobs. She opined that the removal of the vendors would see an increase in crime, because there would be more jobless people. She suggested that even if they had to remove, then someone should find an alternative spot for them as they had to continue to make a living.

When the Regent Street vendors were removed last year they had made much the same arguments, but when the Merriman Mall was prepared for them they refused to take up spots there.

Cornette and other vendors were very upset with the city council as they pointed out that the council had made them believe that they had a legal right on the street. The vendors, many of whom preferred not to be named, said that at no time did they imagine they would have been removed entirely from the street.

Some said even if the judge had ruled they should remove their stalls at the end of the day they would not have been satisfied, as it was not feasible for them to do so.

Hammocks and pillows: The back of some of the stalls on Water Street.

The space in front is filled and the vendors decided to use the back to display the rest of their wares. (Ken Moore photo)

However, some vendors thought they had received their just deserts. They said if they had complied with the licence and not run to court no one would have been ruling against them now. One woman said she had been in the struggle from the inception and when she was granted her licence she built a collapsible stall and removed it at the end of every day. She said that if all the vendors had done the same thing, then they would not have been worrying about removing at the end of the month.

Questioned about the illegality of the licence, Town Clerk Beulah Williams yesterday told this newspaper that from the inception the council knew that the granting of the licence to the vendors was technically illegal. She noted that By-law 10 paragraphs one and two clearly state that no one should encumber the pavements or parapets and if they did then the City Engineer had the right to remove them.

But Williams said that at the time the council realized that vending on Water Street was a social and economic problem and decided to institute some type of order so that the users of the street and vendors would both be partly satisfied.

Williams said the council sought legal advice before granting the vendors the licences. She said that the council knew when the matter was taken to court that the judge would have found the granting of the licences illegal. She pointed out that the vendors were the ones who did not keep their end of the bargain and they were the ones who decided to move to the High Court.

The town clerk said that at the end of the month the council would have no alternative but to remove the vendors from the street as the judge's ruling was final.

Justice Bernard, in concluding her ruling had said with regard to the granting of the licence: "The council's actions are reprehensible, and it must bear full responsibility for the present situation." As a result, she said, there was no need for her to consider legal concepts pertaining to the granting of injunctions and principles such as balance of convenience since the whole foundation of the vendors' case was unlawful and could not be sustained.

Another vendor in Water Street, Yevonne Smith, when questioned about the ruling said: "It is a hard, hard target." The woman said she refused to think so far ahead as she along with many others were hoping that Nigel Hughes, the lawyer for the 53 vendors who moved to the court, would appeal the matter granting them some more time.

Stabroek News was unable to make contact with Hughes to ascertain whether he planned to file an appeal.

Smith and some other vendors threatened that they would not stand by and allow the council to remove them from the street. They noted that vending was their livelihood and should they be removed they would be unable to support their families.

Debbie Loknauth, the only vendor on the western side of the street, where the huge stalls are located, who was prepared to speak to this newspaper, said that even though they were not selling much at the moment they would prefer to remain on the street as they knew that at the end of the day they would carry home more money then they had left home with.

She was one of the vendors who was not in agreement with the collapsible stall as she said she had nowhere to store her wares. She noted that some of the vendors had electricity and questioned how they would move such a stall at the end of the day.

The woman who has been on Water Street for the past 19 years questioned, "where would I get a job from?"

She also had harsh words for the council since she was granted the licence and thought she had the legal right to be a vendor on Water Street.