Minister of Public Works Desmond Bannister.
By LEANDRA ROLLE
MINISTER of Works Desmond Bannister yesterday lashed out at Straw Market vendors for criticising the ministry's decision to close the Bay Street site and calling it "a ploy to get rid of workers."
Noting the statements to be completely false, Mr Bannister said officials decided to close the market to address the safety and health challenges at the site.
"As you're aware, the Straw Market had some serious safety challenges and it was absolutely critical for the government to not continue to expose vendors and visitors to this country to those challenges," he told reporters outside Cabinet yesterday.
"What had happened was that the system that had been put in there years ago had never been put in properly and that system was corroding on a daily basis and it was not operable. And so, the longer we left it in there, the more (it) was going to corrode. The engineers advised that as a safety measure, we had to deal with that urgently and so the vendors have now moved out. The market is being properly serviced with respect to that and when the pipes go in now, they're going to be coated so that the corrosion won't be an issue and a problem."
The minister also cited termite infestation as one of the issues that needed to be addressed. "Also in the Straw Market, there's some other issues that are going to have to be dealt with, not right now but we're going to have to look at those issues," he added."There is a terrible, terrible termite infestation in that Straw Market, and you would see if you go in there and take some photographs, you'll see that the people are working in there now and moving the wood, as much wood as possible.
"Because a lot of the wood that has been brought in is termite infested and that in itself is a problem. Up to Saturday, they've taken 14 huge dumpsters of garbage out of there and they still have more so that may be half of what they took out of there."
On February 13, the Straw Market Authority issued a letter notifying vendors that the SMA, "in conjunction with the Ministry of Public Works," would close the market to carry out "repairs and maintenance," beginning on Saturday, February 23.
Speaking on the closure, Reverend Esther Thompson, president of the Straw Business Persons Society, told The Tribune on Friday that vendors felt disrespected after only being given nine days notice of the market's closure without consultation.
While some vendors have expressed disappointment with the sudden move, others see it as a ploy to get rid of vendors.
Denying those claims, Mr Bannister maintained that it was not the government's intention to force anyone out.
"I think you saw one vendor saying some nonsense and we have to stop this politically motivated nonsense that we see. I sat down with that particular vendor the day before she made her statement," he told reporters.
"...She brought her own engineering expert in and when we left that meeting, the TUC president had to agree with me…so this political nonsense that they came and put out there and went out viral on the internet, it's really ridiculous and really disgusting.
"There were a number of other vendors who called me and agreed that it had to be closed and it was despicable how one vendor was pointed out and that vendor's stall was shown. That was despicable and that was disgusting and we have to stop that nonsense."
The market will reopen Saturday, Mr Bannister said. "This is a five-day operation and we expect the Straw Market to open on 6am on Saturday. It should be open 7am but we're going to try to give them an extra hour," he said.
It is not clear how much the government has spent on the repairs as Mr Bannister said he could not give a definite figure.
However, he said: "The Straw Market is going to get a really good cleaning and you're going to see later this year, it's going to be totally rebranded. So that is going to impact how we look at the market on Bay Street.
"You're going to see a totally different colour scheme and you're going to see beautiful, vivid colours that represent our Straw Market and you're going to see new work in there, work to make the vendors more comfortable and to make it more brighter."