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Sep 4, 2020

Market Woes in Belmopan

Belmopan vendors are not happy that they were not allowed to conduct business on the proposed site of the Belmopan Market Plaza.  It’s a central location – just across from the Social Security Board, but the City Council pulled the plug because they say that the developer doesn’t have the proper licenses to conduct a market from the site.  The developer, on the other hand, feels that the council is not being straight with them.  They say that they have encountered red tapes trying to get the trade license.  Well, the vendors are frustrated and need the problem to be worked out because they are suffering with the current arrangements under the city council.  This morning, the market vendors faced off with the police who instructed them to pack up and leave the area. Here’s the story.

 

Andrea Polanco, Reporting

This was the scene this morning when police and vendors faced off in front of the site of the proposed Belmopan Market Plaza off the Bliss Parade and South Ring Road in the capital.  The vendors were at the site for market day – they came in their trucks loaded with vegetables, clothing and other wares to sell. But police stopped them from setting up and using the site because the developer doesn’t have trade license clearance from the Belmopan City Council. And so those vendors had to return with their goods. Before they left, they lined the street with flags – to express their dissatisfaction with what happened but the police warned them that what they were doing is an act of protest which is illegal without a permit. They also noted that there were more than ten persons on the street – which is also illegal.

The property belongs to private developer David Zabaneh. He says he has invested close to two hundred thousand dollars already in this almost three acre space to create a social infrastructure project – in the form of a central market, he says, which is lacking in the country’s capital. He says that has been trying to get their license but that the Belmopan City Council appears to be dragging its feet simply because they don’t want to lose revenue. He notes that other markets have set up around the capital – but says that they are not subjected to the same rules.

 

David Zabaneh

David Zabaneh, Private Developer

“We as investors and businessmen saw an opportunity where everyone could benefit. The vendors are literally dropping like flies. The council, I don’t think they are seeing that. They are talking about not approving our trade license because they stand to lose revenue but at the end of the day, give them six months, they are not going to have any market vendors to get revenues from anyway revenue. At least this way doing this development we are not running away from a trade license. I feel in a way they were running away from us issuing that trade license because of fear of losing that revenue. Honestly, I will be blunt. We were trying to work with the council from the get go because we know markets aren’t really categorized on the trade license act. So, from the beginning we were talking with a business development officer there, I think Ms Magana, we submitted some plans to her and we are trying to see how we can move forward but the reality is that they don’t want to lose the revenue and they will keep pulling the red tape on us and not allow us to open. Trade License, I could give you a simple example, on the left of the roundabout when driving into Belmopan there is the Blue Moon Farmer’s Market and they want to say that is different because we are talking about artisans and they sell organic stuff. There is nothing different there. I sense discrimination. I mean you go out there it is a market and they don’t have a trade license to operate a market. You could check the records. These people always promote themselves and they have been out there for about two years.”

 

But why are vendors willing to take a stand about this location? They say that there are two fundamental problems with the current market arrangements. The space in front of the CIVIC Centre is congested and they feel it is just not ideal to keep operating there when they have an offer of a suitable space to operate their stalls. The second issue is that since COVID-19 they have all been relocated to the Agriculture & Trade Show grounds – this location, according to the vendors, just doesn’t work for retailers. Today they are saying they are following all the rules and they just want to work.

 

Ramiro Perez

Ramiro Perez, Vendor

“We are already tired that they have us moving from one place to the next. This man has good ideas and we are in agreement with following all the rules of the City Council but the problem is that they don’t let us operate. They need to allow us because we have been suffering for months because we have been unable to work and we are not doing anything wrong here.”

 

Maria Sylvia Flores, Vendor

“I stopped selling there because it was too far for me. I use a tricycle and for me to go to show grounds I would need a truck or car to take my things. So with my tricycle I get tired quickly and it feels too far.”

 

Maria Sylvia Flores

Andrea Polanco

“And you do good business there?”

 

Maria Sylvia Flores

“No. No. We don’t make many sales because business is slow there and even when we do sell a little they charge us a lot. One time I went and they took me out – they said I had to go if I didn’t pay the twenty dollars and I told them that I had not yet make five dollars in sales.”

 

Jose Daniel Gonzalez

Jose Daniel Gonzalez, Vendor

“I feel that this location is very key because the terminal is close by. We have Social Security. We have the museum. We have everything very central. I feel that this is the best location that Belmopan needs for a market.”

 

Zabaneh says that the area expected to accommodate some eighty vendors but to date close to two hundred have signed up for stalls. These vendors, according to Zabaneh, are taking a hit from the economic rift caused by COVID-19 – and his project could help to keep afloat.

 

David Zabaneh

“With the location it is perfect. It could have been a win-win-win for everyone; for us as the developers; the vendors and the community and even the city council. The support was overwhelming because we had close to two hundred people sign up for stalls.   We have to support these people. We have to support them trying to feed their families. They are not being lazy sitting at home waiting for a social security cheque. They want to come out and work for themselves and why not? We all know that with the pandemic people are saying that the economy is bad and so for us this was like a mini economic recovery plan. You impact two hundred small business families that will have tremendous trickledown effect not just for Belmopan but for the entire country. I mean, it is either these people feed themselves or they line up at the Chinese store waiting for a government handout and we don’t want people living on handout.”

 

Reporting for News Five, I’m Andrea Polanco.


Viewers please note: This Internet newscast is a verbatim transcript of our evening television newscast. Where speakers use Kriol, we attempt to faithfully reproduce the quotes using a standard spelling system.

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