Vendors take over TPL land By Nigel Williams
Stabroek News
July 29, 2003

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Water Street vendors yesterday began occupying the newly acquired Toolsie Persaud Ltd (TPL) land amidst confusion over the allocation of spots and a heated debate over the government’s failure to make its position public.

Some 313 vendors have since been allocated spots and another 77 spots are available. The court last week ruled that the government must pay TPL $260M for the land. However, Stabroek News understands that the arrangements for payment are still to be finalized and this matter is likely to come up again in court tomorrow.

Meanwhile acting Town Clerk, Andrew Garnett told a Mayor and City Council statutory meeting yesterday that a number of persons, who had once sold in the area were now returning, causing confusion. He appealed for the council to treat the matter with caution, thus ensuring that those who were given spots were on the original vendors’ list.

Meanwhile, PNCR Councillor, Oscar Clarke, in commenting on the judgement of the court at yesterday’s meeting, said it was time the government came forward and made a public statement on the issue. Clarke observed that if the government did not do this then the council should seek one from the President. “It does not augur well for the council, for if anyone was to be sued it would be the City Council for occupying the land.”

Clarke and a few other councillors suggested the land should first be paid for and formally handed over to the council before anything else was done. However, Deputy Mayor, Robert Williams in defending the council’s decision to allow the vendors onto the land, said the President had met with a special committee last Friday, informing them about the Court’s order and for them to make all the necessary arrangements for the vendors to occupy the lot. Williams said he trusted the President’s judgment in making such an order to the council, noting that if the President made an order then as Head of State it must be carried forward.

Williams asked why the council should wait until a public statement was made before proceeding on works to develop the site, when the matter was transparent and was being looked at by the government.

Moreover, in a letter dated July 25, Minister of Finance, Saisnarine Kowlessar, had written to the council confirming that the government had accepted the ruling in the case of Toolsie Persaud versus Attorney General Doodnauth Singh and would take steps to pay the amount.

Clarke and others said, not withstanding the letter to the City Council, a public statement must be made by the government.

When Stabroek News visited the site yesterday the vendors were engaged in cleaning the area and building stalls. There were numerous allegations of persons being allocated two or three spots and of vendors with small stands being given front views. Garnett, in his report to the council, referred to the meeting which was held with President Jagdeo and members of the council. He said the President had suggested at that meeting that the vendors should move onto the land immediately, forcing the City Council to call an emergency meeting with the vendors and other stakeholders on the same day. He said a special committee was formed to work out the framework for the vendors’ relocation. Garnett noted that on Sunday the site was demarcated in the full view of councillors and other officials of the council. He said the stalls were demarcated into 6 ft by 6 ft and 6 ft by 4 ft areas and were subdivided into dry goods, haberdashery, food stalls, greens vendors and persons selling watches and other items. Garnett said out of the 408 stalls which were available, 18 of them would not be ready for now since the necessary infrastructure was not in place.

He added, that on Sunday the council began the verification process which sought to ensure that those persons who were given spots were on a list of vendors which the council was keeping. He said, using the established list, some 200 vendors were given spots on Sunday and another 113 yesterday. According to Garnett, a number of vendors who had stopped selling in the area for over three years now were returning to claim spots. He said there were also a number of new faces, noting that persons who were known to have been vending in other areas were turning up at the site.

He said the council had begun cleaning the site which included the de-silting of a drain and the opening of three gateways, and has plans for further development. Garnett warned that the allocation of spots was a tedious one and very problematic and as such, the council must work to uphold transparency and fairness in the process.

Additionally, Williams reminded the council that despite the vendors being relocated, the order for the streets to be cleared by 6 pm was still in effect. He added that, “No one would be allowed to sell where the vendors used to be. No one would be allowed to ply their trade in those areas.”

Williams told the Council that there should not be any rush to fill all the spots, noting that the 77 unoccupied lots should be kept for those whose names were on the list, but for some reason had not come forward.

Vendor, Joycelyn King said she was very happy with the development and what was needed now was co-operation from the City Council and vendors. Ina Lewis told this newspaper that she was not pleased with the condition of the site as the place was still in a mess, surrounded by clogged drains and lacked proper sanitary facilities, washrooms and electricity.

Another vendor, Celine Sukhdeo, told this newspaper that she too was happy that she finally had a place to do her business. She said it was long overdue. She hopes the acquisition of the land was not all the government intended to do to help street vendors. Others said that they were hoping that the new site would bring better sales. Yesterday there was hardly any business on the street as most of the vendors used the time to build their stalls. However, some of them were observed displaying goods even while building stalls. They promised to be ready for business today. A few customers took the time to check out the new area.

On Friday, Justice BS Roy ordered the government to pay $260M compensation for the compulsory acquisition of the TPL property. The ruling dates back to a 2001 legal proceeding brought by TPL lawyers who had filed a constitutional motion in the High Court, seeking a variety of remedies as they said the applicant’s fundamental rights guaranteed under Articles 40, 142 and 149 of constitution were being and were likely to be contravened.

The government had initially offered to pay no more than $100M, but TPL was asking for $457M.

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