BELMOPAN—A retiree who has been working as a herbalist at the Belmopan Market for the past 8 years has major gripes with the Belmopan City Council, which, she says, is fleecing the local market vendors by introducing unmanageable and unreasonable operational fees upon the inauguration of the newly renovated market.
Belmopan Mayor, Simeon Lopez, has told Amandala today, however, that nothing new is being charged, and that the new payment schedule is in accordance with costs that will be incurred by the Council in terms of its management of the market.
According to Janice Bain, 63, their challenges began when the 79 vendors were relocated to the Agricultural Show Grounds in the wake of ongoing renovations at the site of the original market in downtown Belmopan, and continued when the Belmopan City Council decided to deviate from the “traditional” method of tax collection to a “manual” method, in which vendors were then required to pay for their stalls three months in advance.
That, Bain explained, became a problem because, for the most part, they are not wholesalers who are making significant profits, and furthermore, the remoteness of the new venue caused the vendors’ incomes to be slashed by as much as 75% in some cases.
After seeking legal redress, we understand that the vendors joined together and wrote a letter to Mayor Lopez decrying the situation and requesting a meeting to address their issues.
Bain mentioned that Lopez had initially ignored the letter, but later agreed to meet with them, at which time he made a proposal to have the vendors pay a monthly fee of $12 per market day instead of paying three months in advance.
Bain told us that the offer seemed practical at the time, so they accepted it, but things soon went downhill when they were later relocated to the Brodies Shopping Center parking lot prior to the National Agriculture and Trade Show. At the parking lot, vendors ended up jostling for space and waiting countless hours to get a space to sell their products.
That led to further frustration on the part of the vendors who, Bain said, were losing money, resources and customers because of the constant shuffling, and to make it worse, she said that the City Council warned that if there were any outstanding balances on their accounts, they would not be allowed to relocate to the new market when it is completed.
Bain maintained that it is unfair for the Council to make such demands considering the dire situation of the vendors, and believes that they (the vendors) should be given some sort of amnesty because several of them will not be able to sustain their business in the current business climate.
Mayor Lopez told us that the Council has “leaned over backwards” in order to accommodate Bain and the other vendors, and that nothing has actually changed in the amounts of taxes which are levied on the vendors, except for an additional $2 which had been tacked on to their payments as part of a trade license and garbage disposal fee.
Lopez gave us a breakdown of the restructured charges, adding that nothing new has been introduced, and that the vendors will be afforded with the opportunity to pay the fees as best as they could.
The Mayor informed us that the Council decided to charge the vendors $10 per market day (Tuesdays and Fridays), which will amount to $1,040 for 104 days of usage, just over three months, while the other charges represent their trade license fee and the garbage disposal fee, which were each levied at $1 per market day.
Lopez said that the other market vendors are aware of the fees and have made the necessary payments, but Bain has refused to be a part of the new process.
For her part, Bain has indicated that she will seek the attention of Prime Minister Dean Barrow, as well as Minister of Local Government, Godwin Hulse, to find an amicable solution to the problem, and bring the fees to a level which the local market vendors like herself will be able to afford.