Devant stands for St. James Market
Local Government Minister Surujrattan Rambachan and Food Production Minister Devant Maharaj visited the St James Market yesterday to hear the concerns of vendors, who are against a food court in the facility. Port-of-Spain mayor Louis Lee Sing is proposing to open the food court tomorrow. They toured the facility separately.
Maharaj described Lee Sing as "an entrepreneur of a selfish nature, mayor of Port-of-Spain." He also met with the vendors on Tuesday at his ministry in St Clair. Maharaj said yesterday he briefed a lawyer who is expected to file an injunction on the vendors' behalf tomorrow.
The vendors, he said, would seek the injunction to stop Lee Sing from going ahead with his plan. The minister said he also would speak to Rambachan during today's Cabinet meeting. Maharaj added: "Clearly what we have seen here is an attack on the history of T&T as well the stakeholders in the food sector.
"The historical society said this site has been used 150 years continuously since it was first constructed." He said the vendors were being pushed out and relegated behind a door. He said he would like to see the facility refurbished. Maharaj added: "Common sense doesn't conceptualise what kind of mind would think of putting a food court here and putting the vendors behind a closed door and on the breadline.
"He (Lee Sing) is now trying to push the vendors out. The ministry has stakeholders that includes farmers and market vendors. "I encourage any construction to upgrade the facilities but I don't know what kind of food court this is. I have seen many food courts all over Trinidad and this looks like the meat stall in the Arima market."
He said the ministry was concerned about having the vendors in an environment conducive to business. Maharaj said Lee Sing had done "many things that I? have not interfered with, such as the traffic plan, but when it comes to the Ministry of Food Production, I have a very territorial approach."
Hours after Rambachan met the vendors, he wrote to Lee Sing urging him to reconsider his decision on the food court. "From my examination of the premises, the long-standing vendors are being disadvantaged in terms of where they are being placed," Rambachan's letter said. He stated the restrooms and stalls were inadequate and it was necessary to separate meat from the vegetables.
The letter added: "It is my view that your actions will discriminate against the longstanding vendors. "I have also noticed that yard space of the market is being occupied by a transformer to service the building next door. "I urge you to curtail your decision to arbitrarily and unilaterally remove the longstanding vendors from their current positions."
Spokesman for the vendors Patrick Maraj said there were 17 vendors at the market. He said: "People all the way from Chaguaramas come here for beef, pork and fish. This is the time I make my money and everybody wants a piece of pork for the Christmas. "He is trying to shove us out and the loss, especially this season, will be thousands of dollars."
Maraj claimed Lee Sing did not consult with the vendors. Robert Tardieu, a businessman who associates with the vendors, said the St James amphitheatre was designated for a food court three years ago. He said no vendor on the streets or in the market was told about any changes that would be made.