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Shop at Stoney Ground demolished

Shop at Stoney Ground  demolished
Workers from the Roads Buildings and General Services Authority (BRASGA) with assistance from inmates from Her Majesty’s Prisons demolishing the small concrete structure

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The shop attached to the Kingstown Government School has been knocked down, though not by Opposition Member of Parliament Daniel Cummings, who had threatened to do just that, should the New Democratic Party (NDP) form government.

Shop at Stoney Ground  demolished
Police officers (left) in conversation with the shop operator Joffre Christopher (centre) and an employee of BRAGSA minutes before the demolition of his shop began

The small concrete structure was demolished on Tuesday by workers from the Roads Buildings and General Services Authority (BRASGA) with assistance from inmates from Her Majesty’s Prisons.

The demolition was witnessed by senior officials from the Physical Planning Division, BRAGSA and the Ministry of Education, who stood in the drizzling rain as the operation took place. Three police officers from the Special Services Unit of Royal St Vincent and the Grenadines Police Force were also present.

The shop was the only one remaining of three buildings which had been attached to the school; the other two were demolished two months ago during construction work to upgrade the school compound as part of a EC$2.997 million project funded by the World Bank.

Cummings, the Member of Parliament for West Kingstown, which includes the Stoney Ground neighborhood where the school is located, said at a virtual rally of his party on September 17 that the school was prone to heat and poor air circulation because of three shops that had been built onto its structure.

He claimed that the third shop was not removed because it was owned by a supporter of the governing Unity Labour Party (ULP) and issued a challenge to the government to destroy the third shop.

“…Knock it down because when we get there, I myself go knock it down. I telling you. I, myself go go there and knock it down because you can’t put the rights of the children ahead of one individual for party politics,” Cummings said.

A person close to the situation however told SEARCHLIGHT that on the day that the two other shops, both wooden, were destroyed, one of the operators of the third shop pleaded with the workers not to destroy the shop as she had not been served with a notice and that there were still items in the shop.

As Tuesday’s demolition took place, operator Joffre Christopher insisted that he had never been served a notice in relation to the shop.

“Where’s the notice, where’s the notice,” Christopher asked repeatedly.

“I have never seen a notice. I am still waiting to see the notice. This is lawless, where is the paperwork?” he said.
An official from BRAGSA told Christopher that BRAGSA had received an order from the Physical Planning Division to demolish the building and that is what he is doing.

“Who is going to compensate me for my shop?” Christopher asked once the demolition began.

Christopher told SEARCHLIGHT that he visited the Physical Planning Division and had been told that he was squatting illegally on the spot and would have to move.

Officials from the Physical Planning Division told SEARCHLIGHT on Tuesday that Christopher had been served two notices, but Christopher insisted this was not so.

Later on Tuesday, SEARCHLIGHT was contacted by video call by Christopher’s mother Althea Thomas, as well as his sister Eloise Thomas who both reside in Long Island, New York.

Althea said the shop belongs to her and it had been on that site since 1975, when she was given permission to establish it there by Premier Milton Cato under the St Vincent Labour Party administration.

She said for 10 years prior to 1975, she had been operating a tuck shop opposite the Russell’s cinema, just outside the Jaycees headquarters to provide financial security for her family. According to Althea, after a while, a businessman in the area objected to her presence there and ordered that she be removed.

“I went to Milton Cato to request a permanent site for my business as well as for the other two shopkeepers, Mr Howard and Grenadian,” Althea said.

According to Althea, the request was granted to allow all three establishments to “build permanently” on the current site.

She said her shop was established on the site before the wall around the school was built and that teachers at the school had always resented the fact that her shop was located there as they wanted the children to stay within the school compound instead of patronizing her business. She claims that the wall was built to prevent the children from easily accessing her shop.

“It was with shock and surprise that I learned the family business had become a political target, and agenda to appease political favours and granting the current school administration their wishes to prevent my family from earning financial security in our own community,” her daughter Eloise also told SEARCHLIGHT, adding that the battle had just begun.