Vendors want compensation, tax cancelled, kiosks returned

PHILIPSBURG–The cancellation of their 2018 taxes, compensation to the tune of US $1,500 per vendor for the period within which they could not work and returning their kiosks (booths) so that they can continue to ply their trade, were amongst the demands that the Philipsburg market vendors presented to Members of Parliament (MPs) during a meeting on Wednesday.

The vendors outlined their concerns about being removed from their place of work after their kiosks were demolished and presented the list of things they would like from authorities during the parliamentary session.
Vendor Ingrid Anthea Grell, who spoke on behalf of her colleagues, said the vendors had requested compensation for the two months they were out of work to the tune of $1,500 per vendor. “We have been through such an ordeal and 90 per cent of our homes were destroyed, our livelihood was destroyed and we were put through this ordeal by (former VROMI Minister) ChristopheEmmanuel and (former TEATT Minister )Melissa Arrindell-Doncher,” Grell said.
The vendor said she would also like parliament to look at having the NAf. 1,400 taxes they pay yearly at the Department of Economic Affairs for use of the booths to be cancelled. Grell argued that since the booths had been demolished, vendors were unable to use them and as a result should not be charged taxes for them. “If I am not living in your home, how can you charge me rent for your home? We are asking for the 2018 tax to Economic Affairs to be cancelled,” she said. “We are in 2018 and we still don’t have the booths to occupy so that we can work.”
She said while some have said that government has given the vendors tents under which they can operate. This is not the case. Some vendors borrowed funds just to purchase tents so that they can use after their kiosks had been torn down. The tents, she said offer little relief as the vendors are exposed to the elements of the weather. “Government has not given us anything – not the NA, USp, DP, UP – none have given us anything. We have gotten our tents ourselves. 2018 is now here and we are still struggling. And we are struggling under tents. Where when the rain comes we get hit, when the sun comes we get hit. The tent does not shade you 100 per cent only 20 per cent,” said Grell.
“We are in a very serious and desperate situation and we would like the government that is in now there to adhere to our grievances that we have and to help us to get back on track. We need to get back on track because we also have a family. We have children in school. There are 55 of us who are out there,” she said adding that 55 vendors have been placed on the breadline.
Grell rewound the clock in history and recounted how they were unceremoniously removed from the marketplace after Irma. She said although an assessment showed that only three booths had been damaged beyond repair and four were damaged structurally and had been leaning to the side, which could have been remedied with a crane, former ministers Arrindell-Doncher and Emmanuel opted to demolish the structures. She said the damaged booths could have been fixed in three weeks’ time.
Grell felt that the comments made that the booths had to be torn down because there were rodents, roaches and had been unsafe were, demeaning. The booths, she argued, had been bolted down to the ground and secured in cement and were safe.
. After the tearing down of the booths, Grell said the vendors could not get answers from anyone as to what was happening, not from Economic Affairs or the MPs and Ministers whom they had contacted.
“When all of this was going on, vendors were never contacted. Up to this day, we were never spoken to. They were torn down and we were left out in the rain with nowhere to go,” she said noting that the vendors could have opened and even if it was US $1 a day that they had made, it would have assisted them in purchasing something for their children. She then filed a complaint with the Ombudsman on the matter.
She was critical to see that the same booths that were deemed unsafe were placed in sand on the Boardwalk for persons to work in them. She said vendors will not go there to operate because it would be inhumane to work in the sand, in the hot sun daily.
“What was done to us on marketplace was inhumane by Doncher and unjustified. We have lost by not being able to come out to work because our workplace was demolished. We have been put down to the lowest degree. We have been disrespected… and downgraded as market place vendors when she said the place was deplorable and unsuitable.”
Grell said the market vendors just want their booths to be replaced so that they can work. The vendors don’t want to be a bother to government, but she made clear that they will “stand up” for their rights. “We would like them to be structured in a way where we can close them at evening time… We want our booths back as soon as possible. If we can get it back tomorrow – to God be the glory. If you can start installing tomorrow, to God be the glory. We would appreciate it very much.”
She argued that the vendors are ambassadors who market the country to tourists more than the St. Maarten Tourism Bureau does.
All MPs were sympathetic to the calls of the vendors and those from the majority coalition promised to look into their demands. Opposition MPs accused MPs from the majority coalition of paying politics with the situation, but this was quickly denied.
Also representing vendors at the meeting were Ms. Florian and Mr. Plaisir.

Source: The Daily Herald