The never-ending saga between the Kingstown Town Board (KTB) and market vendors has surfaced again, this time with the focus on non-payment of fees. Last Friday SEARCHLIGHT carried a front-page story on the issue, as indeed it did during the row over the clean-up of the city last year.
The latest row between the KTB and the vendors who occupy shops and slots in the market, administered by the Board, concerns the issue of letters to some vendors, demanding payment of fees outstanding to the KTB for operating these businesses. Vendors are charged at the rate of $5 per day, $120 per month for the right to operate their businesses, which supply mainly locally produced food to customers. The KTB is alleging that up to $750,000 are owed to it by vendors with some debts amounting to hundreds and even thousands of dollars. Some debts go back as far as 2014, according to the warden of the Board.
But there are issues involved as far as some vendors are concerned. One vendor for instance said that the letters demanding payment were issued “today for tomorrow”, not giving time to pay. Another burning issue is one which surfaced last year after the revamp of the Market including providing new and organized outlets. It revolves around the dissatisfaction of vendors who occupy stalls more to the rear of the buildings that their location places them in a disadvantaged situation since customers usually buy from those vendors who occupy spaces close to the entrance. This complaint needs to be addressed. Then there are those who have dared to return to the side walks to sell produce knowing it should not be done.
At the same time, it is unfair for vendors to expect to be provided with facilities and the space for vending without contributing towards offsetting expenses. Just as the KTB has a responsibility to provide proper services and facilities at reasonable rates, so must those who benefit from those services, enabling them to “make a dollar” as we say colloquially, be prepared to pay reasonable fees.
The old bugbear is our acceptance of responsibility to pay for state-owned facilities and services provided by state-owned institutions. Whether it is market stalls, medical fees or charges for electricity or water, there seems to always be a reluctance to pay. To make this situation even more difficult to deal with, politicians on one side or the other, seem always to be intervening, often leaving their statements open to differing interpretations.
We cannot continue like this, with a row virtually “every Monday morning”. There needs to be frank and open dialogue. For instance, there are vendors who are holding on to the Prime Minister’s promise to look into the matter and are charging that the KTB is attempting to collect the arrears before the government’s announcement on the review, expected at the beginning of March.
Let’s have level and honest dialogue and a willingness both to address the concerns raised as well as to pay outstanding amounts owed.