For Stabroek wharf vendors, a choice between lives and livelihoods

By Rae Wiltshire

 

Although the remaining roofing of the Stabroek Market wharf looks like it could fall at any time, vendors are refusing to move, with most of them saying they cannot afford to risk losing their livelihoods.

“When it is time to stand up, nobody is there,” a vendor, who asked not to be named, said. The woman, who has been selling for 14 years, was talking about some of the other vendors that sell in the market and who are not affected.

She said while the other vendors are concerned for those who are affected by the dangerous environment, they will not do anything about it because they fear victimisation.

Part of the collapsed roofing
Part of the collapsed roofing

She noted that the structure was sloping for quite some time and last Saturday a strong wind hit it and everything came tumbling down. No one was injured when a section of the roofing collapsed and left rusted zinc sheets, litter and the old wood in its wake.

“They (City Council) could’ve taken down the part that collapsed and now it collapse you saying everybody gah move. Where will we go?” the woman questioned. “Yes, I know it is a danger, but where will we go?”

“Stall owners have no voice and there is no one to represent us,” she added.

The vendor said she was frustrated at the constant danger that looms overhead but she has to contend with it because she has a family to look after and workers that she needs to pay. “I want to know, how they (City Council) can make decisions without the stall owners?” she questioned.

She said the wharf kept getting worse as the years went by and now is the best time to find a solution.

Another woman, who also asked not to be named, said she has four children and a sickly husband. She too said she has no other choice but to stay and sell.

“It is not a big problem, it is a simple problem,” another vendor added. He has been selling at the wharf for 30 years.

He said the wharf should be repaired in sections, so that no one will have to move when construction is ongoing. “Yes, I understand they need to repair the wharf but poor people still have to earn a living,” he said.

Like others, he noted that anything the City Council plans to do needs to be discussed with the people at the bottom. He said the vendors’ input can be critical because they have a lot of experience. “This is a landmark and it should not have deteriorated so much,” he further pointed out.

In addition to the affected vendors, those who transport goods and services via boats are also affected. One boat operator said sometimes the garbage would be so thick that they have to cut it off with a knife so they can continue travelling.

“Is very challenging. Ya don’t have a proper place to tie ya boat because if this thing break down again, the boat gon’ get damage,” another boat operator said. “A lot a times plastic bags get stick up in the propeller and it would get damage,” he added.

Meanwhile, acting Town Clerk Carol Sooba said she was hoping for the part that was broken down to be demolished prior to the collapse.

Sooba explained that the initial plan was to use a ferry offered by the Ministry of Public Works for workers to mount in order to demolish the structure.

However, she said this could not happen because the City Engineer had told her they needed to get scaffolds if they were going to demolish the structure and this did pan out. “Things seem to be going slow with the city engineers,” she said.

According to Sooba, the structure needed to be taken down and she was disappointed that it took the wind to demolish it.

She said the structure should have been maintained throughout the years and it is negligence that caused it to deteriorate.

“I understand that people need to make a living but are you going to continue to risk your lives and limbs?” Sooba questioned. She said that there were signs warning the vendors of the danger.

Stabroek News did not see any signs when it visited the Stabroek Market.

Sooba said the vendors were given notice to move and some of them were even given stalls to move. However, one vendor said that there was a meeting with Sooba and even though they were promised stalls, they were not told where they would be relocated.

Stabroek News subsequently told Sooba about the boat operators who complained about the garbage and she replied, “Citizens, they nasty; they don’t care about the environment.”

Sooba also said she wished she had more authority to help the vendors, but noted that it is not only up to her.

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