Declining sales, piracy woes and a slowdown in the construction industry were among the issues raised by stall holders and residents at the Leonora Market, on the West Coast of Demerara, when Opposition Leader Bharrat Jagdeo, met with them on Saturday.
Jagdeo, in his capacity as People’s Progressive Party (PPP) General Secretary, met with party activists in the area, and eventually departed on an impromptu walkabout through the nearby Leonora market.
This was most welcome by residents and vendors, who unburdened their problems to the former President and team, which included Public Accounts Committee (PAC) Chairman Irfaan Ali and Regional Chairman Julius Faeber.
According to Virendra Singh, the owner of two sand trucks, his business was once a thriving and integral part of the construction industry. But times have changed and Singh told Jagdeo that he has been forced to park them and turn to cash crops in a bid to make ends meet.
Singh related that his daughter attends a nearby private school but the advent of 14 per cent Value Added Tax (VAT) on school fees, coupled with his crippled sand truck business, has caused him to contemplate removing her from the school.
“I selling lettuce now, planting a garden. I got children going to school. Look this girl going to Swami School,” Singh said, pointing to his daughter. “They charging VAT now (on private school education), I don’t know how I will able pay the VAT. I (am) selling to maintain the family. And I own the sand trucks and I have loan in the bank,” he lamented.
“When you go for the sand, they say when the four lane done (they will) loose you early in the morning, they will loose you from six o’clock till nine o’clock, which (slows down) progress. A morning I had to get money to send this girl to school and she couldn’t go school because they hold me up.”
Only a few days ago, sand truck operators who traverse the East Bank Demerara highway, were hit with an abrupt decision to prohibit them from plying their trade along that corridor.
The sand truck operators are especially upset over the inadequate notice given to them in regard to this decision. When some truckers arrived at their usual area, in the vicinity of DSL Supermarket, they were greeted with “No parking for lorry” signs freshly painted on the sides of the road.
The sand truck operators formerly plied their trade on Lombard Street, but were removed by authorities to ease traffic. They were placed in front of a paint supplier on the East Bank Highway, but were subsequently removed to the opposite side of the road after the owner complained about dust particles getting into the paint. Now the operators have been removed once again, much to their annoyance and frustration.
Meanwhile, vendors who were selling fish spoke of other challenges such as reduced customers and even piracy. One fish vendor stated that business has, of recent, been very slow.
“Right now, for the short while business (is) real slow, because the people (that) buy from you (aren’t) getting enough money. See how the market deh right now?” She queried, pointing around the market. “The price (is) real low. When it cheaper, it more hard to sell. When it rise, (it’s easier). When it plenty, everybody got. I have five children and six grandchildren.”
Nadira (only name given), a 47-year-old vendor, has been selling fish for 15 years. Her husband is the one who braves the rain, sun and turbulent tides off the coast in order to bring home the fish she then sells. She related that her business largely fluctuates. She also spoke about pirates attacking fishermen, including her cousin.
“Sometimes it goes good, sometimes it don’t go good. I hear the fuel gone up. Right now the fish is very cheap,” she said. “Pirates does take away them engine and so. It never happened to him (husband), but other people. Lately they (robbed) one of my cousin.”
Though products such as fertilisers seemed attainable, the prevailing problem for cash crop farmers was reduced sales. Chavita, a cash crop farmer, is directly affected by this. While greens are an essential part of any family budget, she stated that business has not been what it was before.
“We get we own farm, but we na plant really now, we buy. It is real hard times now. We aren’t getting sales right now. (I’ve been selling) a good while. But for now, it is really hard times to sell.”
Another cash crop farmer, when asked about sales, related that “sometimes it slow and sometimes, you know. Not every time you come out you get (customers) but for me, now, since the estate is not grinding it going good. But I’ve been a single parent for 16 years.”
But while vendors situated on the roadway complained of the slowdown in business, a sojourn deep into the market revealed that things were equally rough. In fact, vendors within the market consistently complained of customers preferring to buy from vendors selling outside and close to the road.
The problem, according to the market vendors, is that some of them do not pay the market rental fees. According to Samsundar (only name given), a vendor and father of three who sells fresh vegetables deep within the market to make ends meet, these vendors on the road absorb the little customers the visit the area.
According to Region Three (Essequibo Islands-West Demerara) Chairman Julius Faeber, the matter of persons selling at advantageous spots outside the market is subject of a court case, adding that he is optimistic that it would soon be resolved.
The Opposition Leader who took note of all the concerns raised by stallholders, at one point expressed concern that the economic woes may get even worse. He noted that the Government has its priorities in disarray and also chided the Government for its expenditure.
“And there is no attention being paid to those sorts of things. All day long (they’re) running after people and their taxes,” Jagdeo decried.
Region Three is well known for its rice and sugar cultivation. But since Government has taken the decision of closing down Wales Estate and moving some workers to Utivlugt, the PPP has warned about the potential social impact on the region. This impact had included a reduction in cash circulating.
The International Monetary Fund (IMF) released the preliminary findings of their report after a visit to Guyana from March 6 to 17 to hold discussions for the 2017 Article IV Consultation. In its report, IMF also warned about these effects. (Guyana Times)