By Shakisa Harvey
Mon Repos Market vendors yesterday decried plans to relocate them without sufficient notice to facilitate the extension of the East Coast four-lane road, even as Minister in the Ministry of Local Government, Norman Whittaker assured that he never indicated that they would be moved immediately.
According to Rajkumar Sookdeo, who has been selling at the market for about 10 years, the Neighbourhood Democratic Council (NDC) last Saturday served the vendors with notices of the plan to relocate them by way of letters, which also stated that a meeting on the situation would be scheduled for yesterday.
Although the meeting was convened, officials were forced to reschedule it to next Tuesday after vendors became agitated.
Whittaker told Stabroek News that he never told the vendors that they would be required to move yesterday, today or in the coming weeks. He also said that he never promised to attend the meeting yesterday.
He explained that at a recent meeting with members of the Region Four Regional Democratic Council (RDC), he indicated that since the four-lane extension was likely to cut into the tarmac at Mon Repos, there may be a need for them to start seeking out alternatives locations for the vendors to ply their trade. Whittaker said that the Chairman of the Market Committee of the RDC was at the earlier meeting and was asked to relay what was communicated to members of his council. Subsequent to this meeting, he added, council members took him to several locations that could be considered as alternative vending sites.
Sookdeo lamented that as much as he understood the need for the new road and the danger it may pose to the market, the news of their removal “is too sudden” as no alternative was provided.
He added that when the meeting was convened yesterday, only representatives from the various ministries were present, while the Minister of Public Works Robeson Benn, who the vendors said they preferred to meet, was a no show. Sookdeo was concerned over the duration of the relocation, the rebuilding process and whether the vendors will be suitably compensated for their investments during the intervening period time, which were also among the concerns of other vendors.
An elderly woman, who declined to give her name but said that she spoke “on behalf of the body of vendors at the market,” expressed dissatisfaction at the failure of the Minister of Local Government to fulfil promises to discuss and negotiate with them. She said the vendors learnt through hearsay yesterday that the meeting had been called to a late start. “They did not state the exact venue of the meeting. Everyone was not allowed in,” she added.
As a result, she said, a crowd grew and got out of control, forcing the officials to discontinue the meeting until next Tuesday at 3pm.
The woman, a vendor at the market for over 13 years, said they became agitated because they felt they were denied an opportunity to voice their concerns.
She said that had she been given the chance to speak, she would have asked about the government’s projections for the road over the last five years. “This had to be prepared before. A plan had to be made. If they knew, why would they still choose this site as a market venue,” she said.
“If they don’t come right, we will plan a protest, whether by hook or by crook. What happened in Linden will happen here. Changes people don’t like. We want what we ask for,” she added.
Meanwhile, Whittaker insisted that he never said definitively that the vendors will be moved and most certainly did not schedule a meeting to meet with them yesterday. He said that when the time comes the stakeholders will be engaged so as to have their input on the matter. He added that the relevant officials will take all necessary measures, including constructing a new tarmac with the relevant facilities, to ensure that the vendors are satisfied with whatever position is arrived at.