By Bibi Khatoon
Approximately 42 stalls containing fruits, vegetables, fish and various food items were on Tuesday morning destroyed at the Stabroek Market Wharf.
It is alleged that around midnight, a female whose name has not been disclosed, was involved in an altercation with a fish vendor known as ‘Chop Off’ at the market.
Reports are that a fight ensued during which the woman stabbed the fish vendor three times; the victim rushed to the nearby police outpost to make a report but returned to his stall on fire.
The Guyana Fire Service was alerted and arrived on the scene, but firefighters were unable to save much.
Chief Constable (ag) of City Hall, Laurel Gittens confirmed to the media that the fish vendor was arrested and is under guard at the Georgetown Public Hospital, while the suspect is still on the run.
Gittens said she received a call from the City Constabulary that the wharf was on fire around midnight. When she arrived, the fire was under control but there was still a large amount of smoke.
She also disclosed that another fire began at the dilapidated wharf at around 08:15hrs from an exposed electrical wire but was contained before it escalated.
Gittens said that vendors are not supposed to be plying their trade at the wharf but the practice still continues as City Hall faces a huge challenge to have them removed and relocated.
“I have learnt that in the past, there were notices placed, the area was cordoned off with tape and all of that but persons are still reluctant in evacuating this environment,” Gittins told the media.
However, she admitted that the Council still collects rental fees from the vendors.
“It’s council space…and the very stall holders who dwell in these places, they are the persons who are determined not to move because they’re saying where they will gain their livelihood.”
Questioned about the presence of persons on the wharf after the market would have closed, Gittens said there are many persons who have been occupying the stalls for over 30 years and made the stalls “a home away from home.”
One of the vendors, who rushed to the location on Tuesday morning and managed to save a number of items from his mother’s food stall, explained that persons stay at the location in the nights to deter thieves.
Several of the fish vendors were counting their losses as items including several freezers, boat engines and other equipment used to ply their trade were destroyed.
A food vendor, Roxanne Bickson said, “I’ll go back on the streets,” as it is where she plied her trade before going into the market some ten years ago.
One vendor, who owned three stalls on the Wharf, struggled to keep his composure as he surveyed the damages.
A vendor who did not want to disclose his name refuted claims that the vendors are not willing to remove from the dilapidated structure.
The young man noted that the vendors have attended multiple meetings with the council but the process is moving at a slow pace and a meeting is only called when a section of the market collapses.
“The first part it break was in we lane, they come and keep a meeting, then after the meeting, long after, another piece fall and they turn and holler they got a meeting again. Nothing ain’t come out of the meeting, then the middle lane start fall and then they keep a meeting again.
“Then the last part fall and they said they’ll move we,” he told the media.
While he acknowledged that the process for relocation has begun, he said preference is given to the vendors who sells perishables and that too is moving slow.
The vendors are being relocated to a tarmac in front of the Fire station which previously housed the bus park.
A visit to the location observed two vendors already constructing their stalls –structures measuring 5ft by 8ft – at their own cost.
Rahim Husain, one vendor said the construction of his double stall will amount to $280,000. He averaged a single stall will amount to $180,000 inclusive of workers’ payment.
The stalls are built using wooden materials. City Engineer, Rasheed Kellman told the News Room that timber was chosen for the structures since it can be removed when the Wharf is rehabilitated.
He noted that the Council supervises the construction to ensure that they are of the required specifications.
The Stabroek Market Wharf has been in a dilapidated state for years. Efforts are ongoing to rehabilitate the structure within the next two years.