Among several demands made to the government yesterday, members of the Straw Business Persons Society called on Prime Minister Dr. Hubert Minnis to remove the downtown straw market from the portfolio of Minister of Public Works Desmond Bannister.
“The first thing we want to do is request that the prime minister remove the straw market from this current minister’s portfolio, and our reason is straw vendors feel like this present minister has a personal beef against the vendors,” said Rev. Esther Thompson, president of the Straw Business Persons Society, during a press conference at the Hilton.
Since coming into office, the Minnis adminstration has urged vendors who have not paid their rent for years to become current.
Bannister has said vendors owe thousands of dollars in rental arrears.
Vendors were told to get their owings at $200 or less, or face their stalls being closed.
The stall rental is $39.20 weekly, VAT inclusive.
The Straw Business Persons Society has claimed that the government has evicted almost 200 vendors from the straw market for rental arrears.
When asked for comment on the matter yesterday, Bannister said he will give a statement on it in Parliament.
The group is also claiming that vendors are taking some of the funds that they owe to the Straw Market Association (SMA) and are being turned away for not having all of it.
“The concerns we have with us owing these thousands of dollars is [the minister] has the public believing that vendors do not pay their rent. That is contrary to what we know the facts are,” said Rebecca Small, vice president of the Straw Business Persons Society.
“We ourselves, the Straw Business Persons Society team members, physically went into the market and we took a survey of 257 vendors.
“Out of the 257 vendors, 85 percent of the current vendors owe $200 or less.
“This survey was done from July 16, and we went over it yesterday, July 18.”
There are approximately 300 vendors currently in the downtown straw market, according to Small.
The group is calling on the minister to produce a report to the public of the current vendors who owe less than $200 and who owe more than that.
It is also calling for a report of how much money has been collected in rental arrears since the Minnis administration came into office.
The group said it is being victimized, oppressed and treated with hostility.
“This administration doesn’t care if they cause loss in revenue for the straw vendors and loss of rent payment for the SMA due to their hostile approach in operating the market,” Thompson said.
“They refuse to see the error in their management style, which is deplorable.
“We would like to appeal to the prime minister and deputy prime minister to intervene in the matter.”
Vendors also pointed to the state of the straw market itself, including the lack of lighting and ventilation, poor sanitation and more.
Back in March, following a demonstration of several members of the group in Rawson Square, Bannister said, “The lighting issue is important, and is being addressed.
“It is critical to appreciate that this issue has impacted the Bay Street market for several years, and that the FNM (Free National Movement) is the only administration to address it.
“Moreover, when I met with vendors, they were assured that the issue was being dealt with.”