THE STRAW market, once hallowed PLP ground, turned ugly on Thursday when a group of PLP politicians arrived to look into complaints about malfunctioning toilets and insufficient stalls for vendors still waiting to set up business. The politicians - PLP chairman Bradley Roberts, MP Philip "Brave" Davis, and Fox Hill MP Fred Mitchell - said they had been invited there on a "fact finding" mission. And so they arrived, expecting to be welcomed with open arms, only to be accused of disrupting the vendors' business for raw politics.
The chaos created in the middle of the day in a tourist centre must have shocked the party leaders who in the past would have been welcomed with hallelujahs. In those "good old PLP days", if any vendor was of a different political persuasion, it would have been more than she would have dared to even suggest a grumble.
These PLP vendors were special women. They believed that they -- and the taxi drivers-- were the backbone of this new nation. So much so that some of them pontificated as though they were a branch of the then PLP government. After all their benefactor, the late Sir Lynden Pindling was the prime minister. He could almost look down on them from his Cabinet office window, while if they had any complaint they thought nothing of trotting up to his office and unburdening themselves.
But after years of neglect, the atmosphere in the market has changed.
After being left 10 years "under the tent" and exposed to the elements of scorching sun, pelting rain, and sea spray, vendor Celestine Eanes, president of the Straw Vendors Advancement Association, wanted to know where these politicians were when for five years they were the government and had power to build a new market after the devastating September 4, 2001 fire had left them with no roof over their heads.
"The PLP was in power for five years," she told Roberts, Davis and Mitchell, all three a part of the Christie administration during those five years. In fact, Bradley Roberts, then minister of public works and utilities, had announced in the House of Assembly on June 15, 2005 that contractors would be invited to bid on the construction "shortly" with work to begin 30 days after the contract was awarded.
"They did nothing within five years and it's a crying shame that they just come now to set about the people. Where were they all the while?" Ms Eanes wanted to know. "It is political, this is a political move his morning," she told the surprised MPs.
Straw Business Persons Society president Laverne Crawley, flanked by PLP vendors, on welcoming the MPs complained that malfunctioning toilets and 30 vendors were still waiting for stalls. These were two of "several issues still not being addressed," she said.
When she had had her say, Ms Eanes insisted on speaking to the press "on behalf of the grateful vendors".
"We realise," she said, "that we might have a little problem with our plumbing, yes of course, but that has been rectified. I want to thank the Bahamas government -- we are not getting wet anymore in the rain and it's been a long time coming," she said.
"The PLP was in power for five years -- they drew a plan which went to naught."
Ms Eanes was wrong when she said that during those five years the PLP did nothing about the market. They did plenty -- drawing plans for a market that mushroomed almost overnight from a 70,000 square foot building in 2005, costing $10 million, to a 200,000 square foot structure with a "grandiose" observation tower, nightclub and restaurant, costing in the region of $18 million. They were also busy dodging the public and making excuses for the delays. They failed to tell Bahamians of the structural difficulties being encountered, and when pressed for answers by Tribune reporters those who should have known claimed "they had not been informed about anything either".
"Every time we approached the government on the issue," one vendor told our reporter, "there was always an excuse like 'the treasury broke, we don't have any money, we trying to do the best we can, please bear with us.'"
Nine months before the 2007 election, The Tribune was told that bids for the straw market would be collected that week and ground breaking would start eight weeks later. Finally on February 7, 2007- three months before the election and change of government -- a $23 million contract was signed for the new straw market.
And as we all know, the story of the market had the usual ending: The PLP promised, talked and delayed. The FNM stepped in, did something and delivered.
In December last year, Prime Minister Ingraham opened the Nassau Straw Market on the same site on which the original market had been destroyed -- 10 years earlier.