Some seawall vendors not happy with relocation package
by Katherine Renton
Most of the vendors along the seawall at Little Tokyo are resigned to disassembling their structures so that the Kingstown Port Modernization Project can get underway.
However, while a few have even expressed that they are happy or content to move, there is a dissatisfaction in other cases where individuals have not found an alternative location and / or they believe that the compensation they are being paid is not going to carry them for very long.
The vendors are set to be compensated in the sum of EC$4500, which represents income support for three months.
The money, approved by Cabinet, totals EC$275,000, according to a release by the Ministry of National Security, Air and Sea Port Development Port Modernization Project Office. This has been set aside for the 60 vendors that were conducting business at this location prior to March 31, 2019.
According to this release, 11 vendors who previously plied their trade at the seawall have removed their sheds and began receiving their cheques from Wednesday, May 13.
SEARCHLIGHT visited the Little Tokyo bus terminal on Wednesday to speak with those that have not yet removed their structures.
Donnette George, a 58-year-old from Penniston explained that her business has been situated at the terminal for 17 years.
George revealed that it was some time last year that they were visited, interviewed and pictures taken with their structures, and warned that they would be asked to move due to the project.
“They told us that they would get a location for us, then afterward they came back and said that they have no location for us,” she commented, and decided to pay them instead.
When she received this news, the veteran vendor said she felt “a little depressed,” and didn’t know what to do. “…but then as the time goes on, I search myself and I said well there
are many things you can do to earn a living,” she stated.
However, she does not think the sum of money being given is enough. “I think it should have been even more, especially those that have been out here for so many years,” she expressed, adding that people have children to send to school, loan and bill payments.
George revealed that she will move by the end of the week, and at that time she will be unemployed. Two of her children still live with her, and are unemployed. One of them was laid off recently because of COVID-19, George noted.
At one end of the line of vendors perched by the seawall, was Orman Joseph-Ollivierre, known by the name “Nikeo”.
Even though the 57-year-old has been living and doing business there since 2009, he welcomes the move.
“I quite able to move because really and truly I want to see the place clean up too,” he stated.
“I build this (board structure), and then I fight for people get things all over here, but now it get so ugly that I decide – for clean up. Yeah I make up my mind,” the vendor who builds benches, cooks, and sells drinks, reiterated.
He assured that he was going to break down his board structure, and was not planning to wait until the end of the month to do it, the deadline that they were advised to move by.
“The Government never send nobody here, we come here on we own and if we have to move – we have to move” ‘Nikeo’ stated definitively.
The vendor commented that “They fight against us [previously] to move us, but we fight against them, so they say leave us a while until they ready.”
“Now they ready now, they (the vendors) want to give them a fight to move…that not supposed to be,” ‘Nikeo’ commented.
He mentioned the “little” money being given, remarking that they didn’t have to allocate money to the vendors. “Them don’t have to. They could just come and deal with you,” he stated, adding that the vendors should be satisfied with this.
“I done got myself line up. I just don’t want them give no trouble, that is all,” ‘Nikeo’ concluded.
On the other end of the line of vendors was Luenda Ashton who runs an icebox business.
The 60-year-old has been vending for 26 years, but 15 years at the sea wall.
“I’m feeling real bad because they ain’t have no where to put us, and then that money that they’re offering, it’s not enough,” she revealed.
“…Within a month it finish. You have bills to pay, children to care about and whatever, it just can’t compensate,” Ashton, who takes care of children and grandchildren in a household where she is the only one working, commented.
However, the veteran vendor intends to move, saying, “Well at least you can’t fight against them, right? But then again I think for right now they should ‘low us because of this COVID-19 thing and then Minister of Finance say everything put off until another year or two, so I don’t know why they still coming.”
“We are in a crisis already and now they putting another crisis on us,” she added.
Ashton does not know where she is going to go, because she does not want to displace any other vendors.
“Listen, vendors contribute a lot to this country,” she opined, noting that they should be treated better.
The Chairperson of the Steering Committee for the project, Laura Anthony-Browne, who was contacted on Wednesday, noted that the cheques to the vendors include an amount for timely removal, and if they do not voluntarily move by the end of May that amount will not be given to them.
Once the site is cleared, the project will “take possession” of it, and no vendors will be permitted in this area.
The US$145 million project has received most of its funding from the Caribbean Development Bank (CDB), partly by a loan and partly by a grant. The loan carries with it commitment fees and “it is therefore in the interest of the Government and people of St. Vincent and the Grenadines for activities to proceed expeditiously,” Anthony-Browne informed.
The seawall at Little Tokyo falls within the footprint for the new cargo and ferry port, and is therefore the reason the vendors are being asked to move.
“Prior to COVID-19, active implementation of the project was scheduled for later this year,” she informed, and the process of finding a design/building contractor has begun, and several international firms have already submitted their pre-qualifications.
“A requirement for a project of this nature and size is a “pre-bid” meeting. We need to demonstrate, that we can hand over to the contractor an unencumbered site. Under the current circumstance, neither our partners, nor the interested firms can travel freely. Still, we anticipate that the bidding process will conclude later this year, paving the way for the eventual commencement of construction,” Anthony-Browne indicated.