Tough decision looms over Water Street vendors
City Council Round Up
With Cecil Griffith
May 21, 2001
The decision by Justice Claudette Singh has come as a reprieve to the city council, as it agonises on how to deal with the Water street vendor issue.
Last Friday the judge granted a temporary stay of execution of the order made by former Chief Justice how Chancellor Desiree Bernard on April 27.
Justice Singh in chambers granted the stay until an appeal filed by the vendors' lawyer Nigel Hughes is heard and determined.
The then chief justice had ruled that the licence granted to the vendors by the council giving them the right to sell on the street between certain hours, was illegal, and was in violation of the city's by laws, hence the licence was null and void and had no effect.
At their last statutory meeting on Monday city 'fathers' and 'mothers' found themselves between a rock and a hard place over the approach to removal of the Water Street vendors giving rise to a heated debate around the horseshoe table on the way forward, when a proposal by the Town Clerk was discussed.
The Town Clerk Beulah Williams has proposed to the Markets and Public Health Committee the rehabilitation and expansion of the Stelling View market "as a possible alternative for the Water Street vendors."
She noted that the rehabilitation of the Stelling View market was crucial at this time since it was the most appropriate alternative for the relocation of these vendors. The records would show, she added, "quite a few of the vendors on Water Street are stall holders of Stelling View market and are paying rents to the council."
The Town Clerk also made the point that "circumstances seem to suggest that there were cases where some of them (the vendors), were forced onto Water Street because of the unfair competition, allowed and endorsed by the council, by its decision to grant licences to persons to sell on the pavements in certain designated areas on Water Street." She emphasised in her proposal to the committee that Stelling View is the most appropriate area to treat with what she called "such an urgent situation" because it is under the direct control of the city council, it is an established market and its rehabilitation and expansion is 95% achievable by the end of May 2001.
The validity of the plan
The Town Clerk argued that the total removal of the vendors from Water Street would involve the taking away of the means to their livelihood and the council could not remove itself totally from the presence of the vendors on Water Street.
The record would show, she continued "that in 1995 the council gave permission and licences and identification cards to vendors to ply their businesses in certain designated areas of Water Street".
According to the Town Clerk, under a special exercise known as the Action Plan for street vending the council is obliged to provide an alternative, even "as an altruism." She warned that any attempt to remove the vendors from Water Street without the provision of an alternative site "is likely to exacerbate current tension in the society". The council's chief executive officer fears that any action to remove the vendors without offering them an alternative would be met with serious resistance and will put the members of the city constabulary and the city engineer's staff at risk.
The council will have to find $16.5M for the rehabilitation plan which will include rehabilitation of the stalls, electrical works, road works, fencing, revetment and landscaping.
During the debate on the Town Clerk's proposals differing views were expressed by councillors representing the People Progressive party/C, the People National Congress/R and the Good and Green Guyana led by Mayor Hamilton Green.
While there was consensus that the vendors must remove according to the court order, it was acknowledged that their views and ideas should be canvassed. The chairman of the council's Finance Committee, Deputy Mayor Robert Williams however was concerned about the availability of sixteen and a half million dollars for the rehabilitation of Stelling View market. He said there is no provision for such expenditure in the council's budget for this year which was presented by him last month.
The Deputy Mayor was of the view that the council should put "pressure" on the government and other stakeholders for support in getting the vendors off Water Street. He received strong support from PNC/R councillor Desmond Moses.
Up to last Monday afternoon the 'chief citizen' was still awaiting a "profile" on what is being done about the city's drainage problem. He expressed disgust over the delay.
The council will lose more than $2M - which is about three months rent - because of the rehabilitation works to be done to the Stabroek market. A work site has been set up at the car park.
Will the Mayor's medal replace the key to the city? I'm sure Mayor Green has an answer.