Govt hoping to acquire Water St land for vendors - Jagdeo

By Samantha Alleyne
Stabroek News
June 14, 2001

The government is moving to acquire the land owned by Toolsie Persaud Limited in Water Street to relocate vendors who were ordered by the High Court to remove from that street.

President Bharrat Jagdeo yesterday said that he has called in the company and asked it to sell the land to the government for it to be transferred to the Mayor & City Council (M&CC).

If talks with the company are not successful then the president will move to parliament to compulsorily acquire the land. He would then make money available to the council to fix up the property.

In the interim, vendors will be allowed to continue plying their trade on Water Street.

President Jagdeo made these announcements at a caucus convened at City Hall with the vendors and members of the council to address the problem.

His announcement was greeted with a resounding round of applause form the large number of vendors present at the meeting.

Yesterday was supposed to be the last day the vendors were to occupy the street in keeping with an order by the court.

Former Chief Justice, now Chancellor Desiree Bernard, had earlier this year ruled that the vendors were illegally on the street and had given them up to last monthend to remove. However, the vendors appealed the decision and were granted a temporary injunction by Justice of Appeal Claudette Singh which expired yesterday.

The president feels that once the issue is settled in an amicable manner then the courts of Guyana will take heed of the agreement and recognise that all sides are trying to solve a problem, "and then maybe give us the appropriate grace period for this to happen."

Once the site is acquired, Jagdeo said that the vendors would have to move into the area and he asked them for their commitment. He said that after the vendors are relocated the council will have to rigidly enforce the by-laws of the city. It is expected that the Water Street land will be an open area for the vendors to ply their trade.

President Jagdeo disclosed that he had met with the vendors twice in recent weeks and they told him that the council was suggesting that they be relocated to the Stelling View Area and that many of them were not prepared to go there because of a variety of reasons.

A proposal by City Hall to obtain a $16.5M loan to prepare the Stelling View area for the vendors was rejected at last Monday's statutory meeting of the council.

The president yesterday recalled the situation with the Regent Street vendors where the Merriman Mall was prepared for them to be relocated and they refused to take up spots.

"It means that if we work out solutions that would take people away from where the commuters move then it may present some difficulty for them because they will not be able to conduct their business," the president noted.

On another issue, the president pointed out that there have been calls emanating from certain quarters that the government should rigidly follow protocol and the letter of the law delineating lines of authority in government. This, he said, had been raised in relation to his intervention in the Albion crime protests.

However, the president said that "there are many social problems in Guyana that have to be addressed jointly." As such, he said he would be disregarding protocol and the petty rules if they interfered with a rapid response to people's problems. "I am going to come and work with you and solve those problems," he pledged.

The president said he could not leave the vendors problem to the city council alone as it is a malady that affects the people of the country. He noted that the vendors are on the street in an effort to make a living.

"I want to work along with the city council, I want to work along with them to solve this problem definitively because the patchwork has not helped over the years. We have to find a solution that will allow people to continue with their livelihood and at the same time bring some law and order with respect to the rules and by-laws of the city," the head of state said.

Mayor Hamilton Green noted that vending must not make the city look bad or ugly. He asserted that council is not concerned with those vendors who have gone to the court because they have said to the council, "we are not bothering with you the court will decide our fates."

Some vendors questioned what laws will be implemented to protect them from what they called the "oppressing attitude of the council." "What laws will be implemented for vendors to be treated as human being and not dogs?", one vendor questioned.

In relation to vendors leaving the place dirty one vendor suggested that a yearly competition be held where different sections will be given prizes for keeping their areas clean.

Deputy Mayor Robert Williams, who chaired the meeting, told the vendors that their problems will be addressed by a special committee which has already been formed.