Vendors outside 'Big Market' go to court
-motion for Parliament debate trounced By Heppilena Ferguson
Stabroek News
February 21, 2007

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What next? Stabroek Market vendors outside City Hall yesterday anxiously awaiting the results of a meeting between the Opposition Leader, Robert Corbin, and the municipality. (Ken Moore photo) (See page 3)

Vendors outside the Stabroek Market who have been given marching orders yesterday took their case to court and the controversy also graced the chambers of Parliament and City Hall where there was confusion over how the decision was made.

Today is the deadline for the dozens of vendors to "abide and move" or "be moved" and they feel that they are being made to suffer at the expense of making Guyana look good just to please foreigners.

However following a request from a vendor delegation, Opposition Leader Robert Corbin yesterday intervened in the matter and sought a hearing from the acting Mayor Robert Williams who was at the time conducting a meeting at City Hall with councillors in their review of the council's 2007 budget.

During that meeting Corbin related what he had been told by vendors who he said were being treated unjustly and were led to have a legitimate expectation that there were going to be allowed to vend during the Cricket World Cup and all of a sudden "they are being turfed out with deceit".

He explained, too, the same scenario that the vendors have been recounting all along about how they were advised to spruce up and spent large sums of money in this regard and are now being told that they have to move.

Acting Mayor, Williams, in response to Corbin's representations, disassociated himself from any decision to move the vendors.

According to him, there was a meeting at the Office of the President which involved members of the Georgetown enhancement committee where it was decided that the vendors would be given a chance to sell from 6 am to 6 pm each day and they would have to spruce up and this information would have had to be communicated to the Clerk of Markets.

He said at that meeting, too, a specimen of a stall was approved and was to be purchased by vendors and once they had it installed they would be allowed to vend.

He said at that point too it was made clear that work was going to be done on that section of Water Street and the adjoining car park.

"I am aware too that there are some stallholders in the adjoining area outside the market that engage in the sale of alcohol outside the market and the enhancement committee saw it and said that we will have to take a decision regarding that," Williams contended.

He said he had cautioned the members of that meeting that whatever action that should have been taken would have to be a resolution of a different nature since some of those very stallholders have been paying taxes for the areas which they occupy.

"No other decision that I know about was made and I will request a meeting with President Bharrat Jagdeo in whose office many collective decisions were made regarding the enhancement efforts," he added.

However Williams said that Town Clerk Beulah Williams who is the Chief Executive Officer of the City Council could have been the only person to instruct action. Questioned on whether the town clerk could be made to take orders from any member of central government, Robert Williams acknowledged that this was possible and added that the town clerk could also take instructions from the minister of local government.

The Town Clerk was not in office when the vendors assembled outside city hall and neither was she present after the council decided to meet with the vendors' group.

Following yesterday's meeting however Stabroek News understands that the 17 councillors who heard the vendors' concerns following Corbin's intervention voted unanimously for the vendors to return to their spots and to continue to vend.

Meanwhile four vendors with more permanent establishments but who would also suffer from this decision have since moved to the high court on the issue.

Gillian Holland, Anthony Dundas, Aubrey Marshal and Satya Anand Singh have filed a notice of motion that an order be directed to the town clerk of the city of Georgetown and to the city engineer to "remove into this honourable court and quash the decision made by the city engineer and or the mayor and councillors of Georgetown to have removed the structures south of the Stabroek market car park from which the applicants operate shops…"

The court document states that the application for the order was being made on the grounds that "the decision to dismantle the stalls was made arbitrarily, was unreasonable, unfair and is contrary to the reasonable expectation created in the applicants' favour to continue to earn their living by operating their businesses and is a breach of the rules of natural justice and is null and void and of no legal effect." The matter is returnable for March 5th in Bail Court.

Town Clerk Beulah Williams at a press conference on Monday, made public the council's decision to permanently prohibit vending outside the market as part of the city beautification efforts for the Cricket World Cup, just weeks away.

The council in the past had worked relentlessly to move vendors from this area and had even worked out a system where the vendors were able to set up mobile stalls and were permitted to sell in the area from 6 am to 6 pm and were responsible for keeping the area clean after the close of sales each day.

"I think the vending outside the market has for too long hidden the beauty of the Stabroek Market and so we're also likely to remove those structures around the market also," Williams had said in defence of her decision.

Meanwhile, following a vote in Parliament yesterday, Speaker of the National Assembly Clarissa Riehl disallowed a motion by Leader of the Opposition Corbin who sought to have the removal of vendors from the Stabroek Market debated as an urgent matter of public importance.

"I can no longer sustain the application for the motion," she said, having heard arguments from both Government MPs and the Opposition.

Corbin brought the request for the matter of the vendors to be discussed as a matter of definite urgent public importance. And to this the deputy speaker agreed, but she said that she needed the leave of the National Assembly for such a request. "I am satisfied that the matter is important, urgent and has a large section of the public involved. But I have to have the authority of the House," Riehl said.

She then called a division in the House and while 18 of the Opposition MPs voted for the motion, 29 of the Government MPs voted against it.

The Leader of the Opposition said that since the pretext for the removal of the vendors was cricket world cup, it is quite possible that this may be the beginning of a large scale national exercise that could disrupt the lives of thousands of citizens. He said that should the leave be granted for the debate on the motion, he proposed to call on the Minister of Works to provide ample explanation of this development and to call on the Minister of Local Government and Regional Development to ensure that the decisions of the City Council are respected and not changed arbitrarily without consultations.

Minister of Home Affairs Clement Rohee said that it was improper for the Leader of the Opposition to suggest that Robeson Benn, Minister of Transport and Hydraulics, is responsible for the vendors. He had given early notice that the Government benches were not in support of the motion.

In response, Corbin said that he had information that the order for the vendors' removal may have come from Minister Benn. Rohee said, too, that he got word that the matter of the removal of the vendors is before the courts and was therefore sub judice. (Additional reporting by Johann Earle)