Two years after roof collapse, Stabroek Wharf attests to City Hall’s propensity for empty promises

A section of the still collapsed stelling roof earlier this week. For the most part this section of the market has been abandoned on safety grounds

To the extreme east of the enclosure that is Stabroek Market there are a handful of intrepid survivors of the incident in March 2015 when the roof above the wharf collapsed without warning, crushing a stall below and rendering the rest of what had been the trading area unsuitable for doing business.

Stabroek Business had covered the aftermath of the tragedy then, engaging the handful of traders who had returned once the worst of the rubble had been cleared away to recommence plying their trade amongst the ruins. They had hung on for a while against the backdrop of drastically diminished sales. After the major collapse towards the end of March 2015 the occasional stout beam that had survived the initial incident would fall to the ground. Most of the shoppers were taking no chances and eventually most of the vendors dispersed.

When we returned to the stelling area closest to the Demerara River earlier this week the remaining beams in the ceiling were still dangling menacingly and the handful of ‘die-hards’ that had remained vending beneath the threat of being injured by falling debris appear these days to be indifferent to the threat.

A perpetual danger: This tapestry of loose beams has been left behind in the wake of the collapse of the stelling wharf in March 2015. Every so often planks work themselves loose and collapse to the ground.

By the time we got there around the middle of the afternoon trading had more or less ceased for the day. A lone cake shop run by an amiable couple remained open. They were not trading, however. Rather they were engaged in a gaff about things that had nothing to do with their circumstances.

It’s hard to imagine doing business amidst the pile of rubble. It appeared that as a concession to the vendors trading beneath the threatening beams, City Hall was no longer collecting rents from them. The owners of the cake shop acknowledged this though they made it clear that they felt they had little to thank City Hall for. Before the roof had collapsed, they said, it had been in a dilapidated condition for years. City Hall had had ample opportunity over the years to fix it.

Most of the displaced vendors, Stabroek Business was told, had since moved on. Some were now trading on the streets and no one amongst the small group that we met seemed sure as to where the others had gone to. When we raised the issue of their relationship with City Hall they appeared indifferent. The relationship, they said, had been characterized by a succession of promises to restore the dilapidated area. Up to a few months ago promises by City Hall to restore and renovate had been made. Preoccupied with eking out a living in unbearable circumstances, the survivors of the March 2015 stelling roof collapse have become thoroughly indifferent to the municipality.

We raised with them the most recent undertaking given by Town Clerk Royston King last year regarding repairs to the wharf. It appears, however, that the issue of repairs to the wharf has now become subsumed beneath the problem of just where the remaining vendors should be re-located to. In this instance, as in myriad others, the municipality’s options are limited by a lack of funds.

Several months ago, King had made a public disclosure to the effect that approximately $400M was to have been spent on rehabilitating the wharf. The rehabilitative work, according to King, is to include a Mall and a Boardwalk. When we raised the issue of the Town Clerk’s undertaking the group, collectively, cast us a cold cynical stare.

We ‘drew a blank’ late on Wednesday when  contacting City Hall. The Town Clerk, we were told, was busy. We assumed that he was in the process of extinguishing its latest looming difficulty occasioned by what, for the time being at least, is a possible garbage collection crisis.

The disaster area in which only a few traders now persist remains under threat, as well, from a moody Demerara River, which when we visited the market earlier this week was rocking and rolling like a restless monster. The group was discussing the weather and speculating as to whether its recent days of restlessness would subside quickly. Three customers made modest purchases from the cake shop during the period that we engaged the group. In each instance the proprietrix excused herself to serve them promptly, making the point in the process that she could not afford to pass up a customer.

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