August 17, 2012
Time for decision making will come – Francis

Minister of Transport and Works Julian Francis is calling for a national discussion on how vending in Kingstown should be addressed, but added that the time for decision making will come.{{more}}

His call comes days after prominent businessman O.A. “Ken” Boyea wrote to the Kingstown Town Board on August 7, complaining about the situation outside his business place — KFC — at the corner of Melville and Grenville Streets.

Boyea said he would on Sunday begin to “forcibly remove any unlawful attachments” to his property or obstructions to the free flow of customers who patronize his business.

The Bank of St Vincent and the Grenadines (BOSVG), located on the corner of Grenville and Bedford Street, has also written to the Town Board about vendors outside its premises.

The bank, partly owned by the government, says the vendors block its emergency exit and night deposit facility.

Last Friday, police forcibly removed vendors from the sidewalk outside the bank. However, within days, the vendors returned, and were there when SEARCHLIGHT visited on Wednesday.

Francis, told SEARCHLIGHT on Wednesday, that while the Grenville Street sidewalk has become “a nightmare”, he would act after discussions with vendors.

“All vendors have their sympathizers, and the sympathizers are very important elements in the society. They will complain about the sidewalk vending, but the minute you move them, you have an outcry from a lot of people,” Francis said.

He said he wanted all stakeholders to be involved.

“Tell me, are you happy with the sidewalk vending? Is it comfortable for you? Do you buy from them, or do you want them off the street into a place where we can have it controlled?”

Francis said that whenever vendors are to be moved they are first invited to a meeting and he personally explains what is to happen. He said he usually explains that although the vendors have rights, the business people also have rights.

“You can’t go by a man’s business place and block it up and then hang your wares on top of the wall that they are paying taxes for and the bank for, and sometimes outside of the business, they are vending the same stuff that is being sold inside the business.”

Francis spoke of the role parliamentary representative for Central Kingstown, opposition legislator St Clair Leacock, is reportedly playing in the impasse between the vendors outside the BOSVG and the authorities.

“The most disgusting thing and upsetting thing is the reaction from Leacock to the vendors that we … have moved from the NCB (BOSVG) building. That is a very glaring matter!”

Francis said he understands that when the police were trying to move the vendors last Friday, Leacock and Burton Williams, a former minister under the New Democratic Party (NDP) administration, told the vendors not to move.

He also said Leacock complained that no one had contacted him about the situation.

The businesses in question and the vendors are located in Central Kingstown.

Leacock told SEARCHLIGHT on Wednesday that he was present when police moved the vendors last Friday, but he did not tell the vendors not to move.

He said he told the vendors to respect the police, as they were only carrying out orders. He added that while the vendors are back at the location, they did not return on his advice.

Leacock further said that from his discussions with several stakeholders, including the Warden of the Town Board Carl Williams; the Manager of BOSVG, Derry Williams and senior police officers, including Commissioner of Police Keith Miller, he got the impression that if an “accommodation could be found to live and let live, everybody would be happy.”

He said he was therefore surprised when the matter flared up again, and that he believes that if there can be a “win-win situation”, it should be explored.

Leacock said the vendors are willing to ensure that the emergency exit and the night depository are always free.

He, however, said the situation took on a political dimension when one of the vendors in that area, who is a supporter of the ruling Unity Labour Party was asked to move further down under the gallery.

“Once she was taken care of, then you had the enforcement that the remainder of the people be cleared!”

He said that if accommodation was made for one person, it should be done for all.

Leacock, however, said he welcomes the call by Francis for dialogue and said “high handedness will not help!”

“Rather than Minister Francis, for example, who happens to be the minister thinking that he singularly by himself can bring into place a policy, which would be their right to do as a government, but after all, the Kingstowns are represented by people who come from the opposition side. There is room for consultation and dialogue.

“There must be dialogue!” he said.

‘No Vending’ areas

Meanwhile, Francis told SEARCHLIGHT he would like to declare certain areas in Kingstown as “no vending” areas, and stop collecting vending fees from persons who sell in those areas.

The Kingstown Board collects a daily fee of $5 from vendors.

Francis said his proposal will reduce government revenue but added that vendors will also no longer have any legitimate right to sell in the restricted areas.

He, however, said advance notice would be given to all vendors who would be affected.

Francis said that since 2008, he had a plan to renovate Little Tokyo and to cover the top floors on the verandas of the vegetable market, as alternative space for vendors. The project, he said, never materialized, as he did not get the funds to get it done.

He, however, said there is money in the Estimates this year for some clean up and there is a proposal to construct a vendors’ mart in the area of the temporary market opposite the Cenotaph. He said this project is in the design phase.

The idea, he said, is to put up an attractive two-storey wooden structure there to accommodate the vendors. He said specific spots around Kingstown would also be identified where vending would be allowed, for specific types of produce.

“Everyone else would have to move off the street and go into this building and as well on top of the wings of the market.”

However, the resources to construct the vendors’ mart still have to be sourced.