Minister of Transport and Hydraulics Robeson Benn again gave 31 relocated vendors permission to operate outside Demico House and explained that police had ordered them to vacate on Wednesday because of a certain security concern.
Benn, during a brief interview yesterday, explained that he understood from “police that there is an issue in being able to see past the stalls on to the pavement behind”. This is the pavement located along the western side of Demico House. The minister explained that the shroud (green canvas) around the three sides of the vendors’ stalls hindered the police’s view to the area beyond.
“We’ve spoken with the vendors already to remove the shrouds from the back of their stalls,” Benn said.
The police outpost, erected in the parking lot opposite the stalls after a grenade explosion last Wednesday, now has some visibility to the pavement beyond the stalls. Some persons, according to Benn, have been snatching cellular phones and other valuable items in the area.
When questioned about whether police should have handled the situation differently given that he and his counterpart in the Local Government Ministry, Kellawan Lall, had given vendors permission to operate at the location Benn said: “I think they (police) had a concern about something they figured was ongoing out there and they reacted.”
The minister declined to comment further on the issue as it related to the police. He advised that further details about why police asked the vendors to vacate the spot should be sought from them. Efforts were made to contact Police ‘A’ Division Commander Assistant Commissioner George Vyphuis for a comment but he could not be reached.
Following meetings over the weekend with Benn and Lall vendors were given permission to continue their operations outside Demico House (in front the Stabroek Market and opposite the route 41 bus park). These vendors were moved from their original locations around the Stabroek Market area following the grenade explosion which killed Helton Lazarus and injured 18 persons.
Sometime after 2.30pm on Wednesday police told vendors they were operating illegally and ordered them to vacate the area. About four hours later, vendors told Stabroek News, Benn arrived at the scene, told them to disregard the order by police and to continue vending at the location. The minister said yesterday that he did visit the area and spoke with vendors on Wednesday evening and also revisited yesterday afternoon to ensure that all was happening as it should.
A government source told this newspaper yesterday that Benn and Lall have had “their differences about the relocation of the vendors”. While Benn has given his blessings to vendors to sell outside Demico House, the source said, Lall has some reservations about this decision.
Benn, when questioned about this, said that the two ministries were not having any differences.
“We’ve been working quite well on this,” were his words.
His ministry, Benn said, has been getting some “good cooperation” from the officers of the city council through the Local Government Ministry. The problem, if there is any, comes at the level of the mayor and councilors where we see certain statements hinders the proper development of what the government would like to see happen in the City; in particular the Stabroek area, Benn said.
Meanwhile, spokesman for the vendors Junior Benjamin-Todd confirmed yesterday that Benn visited that market area shortly before 7pm on Wednesday and again yesterday. “We told him about what the police do to us and he told us that they had no right to do that and that we could continue selling at this location,” Todd reported yesterday morning.
The 31 vendors, Todd said, are now operating as per normal at the location again.
“Dirty little shops”
Since last Thursday massive demolition works have been going on around the Stabroek Market area. Several shops once located in front the Fire Station were torn down as well as Fuggie’s Beer Garden and several other business structures which were located in front the 42 bus park area.
In addition to this many vendors were moved from their locations and later allotted new spots or placed at their original spots in a more orderly fashion. This rearrangement was also sparked by the explosion and aims to make the area less congested.
Benn explained that his ministry has dealt largely with the people who sell fruits, bread, hats and haberdashery. When the 31 vendors outside Demico House vacate the area at 6pm, he explained, other vendors who sell cooked food will take up the same spot. The bread vendors, according to Benn, have been assigned locations and will conduct business from 3pm to 10pm.
There are still some minor issues, he said, with the vendors who sell water coconuts and keeping the area around where they conduct business clean. Cigarette vendors, he further explained, are yet to be placed. The area where the cigarette vendors operated, Benn said, is being worked on and the ministry is still trying to find strategic spots where they can be placed.
Benn also raised concerns about the barbershops located along the southern side of Croal Street around the 40 minibus park. During a walk through the city a few days ago, he said, the operators of these barbering spots were told that they would have to move. However, up to late yesterday afternoon they continued operating at the location.
It poses a health risk to have hair flying about the open area, the minister stated, and the practice of barbering in a public place violates the public health regulations or ordinances.
He further said that certain “elements” congregated at these areas thereby creating a setting for petty crimes to occur.
The task of clearing up the area, Benn noted, has been a difficult one for his ministry and it has been recognized that they will have “to be more assertive”.
The problem, he stressed, has gotten large in terms of the congestion and other problems being created. It will be a big and continuously difficult task for his ministry along with Local Government, the health authorities and City Hall to deal with.
He further noted that the “dirty little shops”, referring to the cook shops once located opposite the fire station, have been demolished.
These too posed a health risk to the public.
This area, according to Benn, was once used by the Fire Service to park their engines. With the area clear again the fire service will be able to use this area once again.
Returning dignity to Georgetown
The area in front of the fire station, Benn explained, was once known as Russell Square. It was named in memory of the engineer who established the conservancy system initially and the water supply system to Georgetown (the Lamaha canal).
A fountain and a “bust” of Russell was established at the square, the minister said, but over the years the monument was vandalized and what remained of it was later moved.
This fresh drive to clear the Stabroek Market area is aimed at improving the location, Benn said.
His ministry and section of the government, Benn said, have had discussions about providing “some greenery and decoration” around the area to transform it into what a public square should be so that the Guyanese public will have something to enjoy.
“…you need to have seating accommodation. An open space, fountains with little wading pools. A normal public square for the enjoyment of the public,” Benn said when questioned about his vision for the area surround the market.
The work, he noted, is about returning dignity to Georgetown; making it what it was before and even more.