The vendors said while there is a world wide economic crisis and government around the world is doing all they can to assist businesses the island government of St. Maarten namely commissioner Buncamper Molanus has so far failed to come to the aid of the vendors.
Ingrid Davis said she has been selling on the market for the past 25 years and she has pleaded with the commissioner of economic affairs as well as with former commissioner of tourism Theo Heyliger to come to their aid but to date neither of the two commissioners has done nothing.
Davis said the island government has been demanding a lot from them but so far failed to provide proper security during the rainy season. She said vendors who are very hard workers do not have any medical coverage and she personally asked the commissioner of Health Care Affairs Maria Buncamper Molanus to see if she can mediate with SVB so that independent workers such as the vendors can get medical coverage but the commissioner she said did absolutely nothing.
Another and most grave concern for the vendors is the unfair competition they are confronted with by Rima wholesale store. Davis said the market vendors are the ones that built Rima since they are the ones who suggested to the businessman what he should bring in to St. Maarten as wholesaler. She said over the years the vendors supported Rima when they were just selling wraps but today the businessman is putting them out of business and government is doing nothing.
Davis further explained Rima was not even selling their merchandize to the Indian stores instead it is the vendors who supported him from the beginning but today that has changed because management of Rima no longer wants to sell anything to the vendors on a wholesale basis since he is now advertising on the cruise ships, hotels and is even paying taxi drivers to take their clients at the store to shop.
She said Rima is also paying the tour bus drivers to take the tourists to his shop instead of allowing them the half hour time to shop from the local market vendors. "That same tour bus driver who told Commissioner Heyliger that he cannot park in the space allotted for tour buses because he cannot turn around properly is now parking in front of Rima store on the Pond fill because Rima is paying him on the side." Davis said.
The businesswoman said that Rima is selling their items cheaper to the tourist claiming they are a tax free zone but vendors she said are burden with heavy taxes. The business woman said government just made a new rule which states that if they do not pay their license fees which amounts to Naf.1,200 annually on time they would have to vacate their spot. Davis said Rima wholesale and retail prices are the same and they simply cannot compete with the unfairness. She further explained that the vendors tried boycotting Rima buy buying other merchandise from the Indian stores in Back and Front Street and Rima management had someone namely his wife buy their things and had it re-fabricated in China and sells it at a cheaper price. "The tourist is coming to us and asks for directions to Rima store because they have the flyers from the ships." One vendor said.
Davis said they are casting the blame on the island government since government has allowed the businessman to get away with everything. She said she personally met with commissioner Buncamper Molanus who basically told her that there is nothing she could do to Rima.
Vendors have to pay some Naf: 1, 200 as fees to use the space they are using also they are have huge taxes at the end of each year. Noussomee Francessca expressed the same sentiments. Francessca said they are spending their days sitting outside in rain and sun and is not making any monies to pay their bills. She said there are parents who are working very hard on the market but they are not able to feed their children at the end of the day much less pay their dues.
Another vendor Gabriel Brown who was obviously upset about the entire situation said she has four children to feed and educate and the way things are going she simply cannot meet her payments. Brown said today (Thursday) there are four ships in port and look there is no one on either side of the market shopping. But if you pass by Rima you would see where the taxis park up.
An elderly Democratic Party supporter who was in the immediate area when the interview was taking place said she personally spoke to the DP leader about this problem. The woman said she also went to Rima store and confronts them about their doings but nothing changed. The elderly woman said the vendors need to get together and fight the battle because they would never be able to survive if this continues.
This reporter did pass by Rima to see if what the vendors are saying is true and there were taxis parked up in front of the wholesale store as well as those who were on their way out. On the side walk there is a sign belonging the Dutch St. Maarten Taxi Association with their number. On the DSTA sign it is written in clear bold letters "DSTA pick up and drop off". Efforts made to get a comment from the newly elected President of DSTA Scotty Priest have proved futile up to press time.
What is beyond comprehension the DSTA has over the years been complaining about unfair competition with the Tour Buses and Water Taxis but today they are the ones who are offering the unfair competition to the vendors for a few dollars more.
Efforts made to contact Commissioner Maria Buncamper Molanus on the allegations proved futile since the commissioner did not answer her mobile phone throughout the day yesterday.