Urban vending: Is City Hall on a hiding to nowhere

- GCCI meeting council to discuss members’ grouses

The ongoing saga of the challenges associated with creating an enhanced sense of order in downtown Georgetown and creating convivial spaces in the country’s capital could take yet another turn shortly as city merchants seek to bring their concerns to the attention of the municipality.

Clearly animated by what it senses is a more than modest level of public support for a sprucing up of the capital for the Jubilee celebrations  coupled with President David Granger’s publicly expressed support for its efforts, the municipality is moving ahead with what often appears to be less than sufficient regard for the consequential problem of scores of displaced vendors.

On the sprawling tarmac area immediately east of Stabroek Market the vendors had spread themselves elaborately, makeshift boutiques operating cheek by jowl with roadside vendors offering cellular phone top-up and cards, bread and cigarettes. There were modest places of entertainment, too, offering beer and loud music.

Royston King
Royston King

All of that has disappeared leaving the deserted tarmac area bare and ugly, awaiting the intervention of the council’s promise to ‘nice it up.’ On the streets there might be a modest humanitarian outpouring for the displaced vendors though, truth be told, the underlying sentiment favours a transformed Georgetown and a discreet re-siting of the vendors. Whether, for all its seemingly contrived assertiveness City Hall can satisfy both the aesthetic needs of the capital and the economic needs of large numbers of urban poor is the question which, in the longer term, would have to be answered.

Relocating the vendors is not the only challenge confronting the municipality. Whereas the circumstances under which the vendors trade accord them few if any rights or entitlements, the legitimate urban merchants are an entirely different prospect. During a telephone interview with Stabroek Business on Tuesday, Georgetown Chamber of Commerce and Industry (GCCI) President Vishnu Doerga disclosed that the chamber could be meeting with City Hall as early as next week to seek solutions to the concerns of its members. “Our members have concerns too,” Doerga declared.

The fact that the chamber’s disclosure coincides with the vending controversy may well not be without significance. Doerga declined to provide details of the likely agenda for the meeting though it would hardly be surprising if the long-held concerns over pavement vending and its implications for unencumbered trading by the high street stores were to arise at the forthcoming meeting between the GCCI and the council. He did say, however, that the meeting was likely to address, among other things, parking in the city and “the enforcement of laws and regulations that are on the books.”

On Wednesday a city merchant conjectured during brief comment that the forthcoming meeting may be directly linked to the present differences between City Hall and the vendors following their recent removal from the Stabroek Market Square. He said he believed that there was now a legitimate fear that the dispersed vendors may simply seek to occupy alternative spaces indiscriminately and that this might redound to the further disadvantage of legitimate traders.

 Clothing on display at the makeshift vending site
Clothing on display at the makeshift vending site
Vishnu Doerga
Vishnu Doerga

Doerga told Stabroek Business that the chamber was in full support of the drive to create “an orderly city,” adding that while there was a need for “a longer-term solution” to the plight of the vendors the rights of the legitimate traders in the capital had to be recognized and taken account of. He said that among the other specific issues that are likely to be ventilated when the chamber meets City Council are the continually worsening situation in the capital in relation to parking and the traffic congestion implications of the movement of container-laden trucks in the city.

In recent years the GCCI has been moving to recruit small and micro enterprises to its ranks though the chamber had conceded several months ago that the initiative had borne little fruit. A chamber source told Stabroek Business earlier this week that the challenges currently confronting urban vendors might create an environment in which more vendors may be inclined to pay an interest in being part of the chamber “particularly at a time when they appear to be in need of representation.”

Demonstrations by the vendors in the wake of their removal from the market square had initially targeted both the coalition administration and the municipality for criticism though earlier this week President Granger came down on the side of good order in the city though he expressed the view that the alternative accommodation identified for the displaced vendors should be expedited. On Wednesday, however, a visit to the site revealed not only that the available accommodation was altogether inadequate but that the vendors remained disgruntled over the situation. Some vendors, meanwhile, in an act that appeared to reflect a determination to persist with their trading from the vantage point of the Stabroek Market Square were offering bread and other items from parked cars while some of the displaced vendors eyed them ruefully from a safe distance.

On Wednesday, too, Stabroek Business visited the site aback of the Stabroek Market where a section of the deteriorated roof under which a number of vendors have traded for years, collapsed more than a year ago to find that City Hall is yet to honour its promise to repair the damage. Whilst the municipality had said that it would collaborate with the Ministry of Public Infrastructure to restore the area, City Hall Public Relations Officer Debra Lewis told Stabroek Business that the initiative to repair the damaged area had hit some hurdles.

There is as yet no word as to when the promised works will commence given the preoccupation of both the municipality and the Public Infrastructure Ministry with projects associated with the jubilee celebrations. The vendors, meanwhile, appeared to have settled down to plying their trade beneath the partially collapsed roof while City Hall continues to risk finding itself in yet another difficult situation in its seemingly unending sage with urban vendors.


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