The Malta Independent 24 February 2020, Monday

Marsaxlokk goes to the polls to decide on Sunday open market closure times

Albert Galea Saturday, 12 January 2019, 09:25 Last update: about 2 years ago

The seaside village of Marsaxlokk will go to the polls today as residents vote to indicate their views on whether locality's open market should close earlier every Sunday.

The public consultation vote comes after the Marsaxlokk local council unanimously voted to change the closure time of the market on Sunday from 6pm to 3pm.

Contacted by The Malta Independent, Marsaxlokk mayor Horace Gauci said that the primary reason behind the council's decision was so that the cleaning of the area could be completed by a reasonable time, and so that after the market closes the area isn't taken over by tables and chairs straight away so that residents and tourists alike are able to enjoy the coast in the early evening.  Currently, the cleaning process can, at times, take until 9pm to be completed, Gauci said.

Voting will take place at the local council's offices between 7am and 7pm today, Saturday, whilst it will be the first vote in Malta's history where 16 year olds will be allowed to participate.  All voters are to take their identification cards with them when voting, cards which will be checked against the electoral register to make sure that he or she is eligible to vote.

In discussing the public consultation vote and the council's decision, Gauci had said that four out of five of hawkers had agreed that the market should close at 3pm; however this assertion was rebuffed by Raymond Tabone, the president of the association for market hawkers, who said that they statistics cited by Gauci were taken from an outdated survey.

Contacted by The Malta Independent following a meeting between the association and the Marsaxlokk local council, Tabone said that whilst the current process hasn't necessarily changed, he had clarified that circumstances had changed since the survey which Gauci had cited was issued.

This was due to the fact that when the survey was carried out in 2015, it was on whether the hawkers could have their vans parked next to them on the promenade.  The government in the end had decided to not let the hawkers set up with their vans on the promenade on a Sunday, however the hawkers would be allowed to remain with their stalls set up till 6pm.  As a result of this outcome, Tabone explained, that survey was rendered null and void.

Tabone appealed for a compromise that ensured that hawkers' ability to provide for their families would not be hindered. Ahead of the vote, he said that the proposed removal of three hours of business for these hawkers would be a major blow for their business and their ability to provide for their families.  The law is very clear in that the hawkers can set up at 6am and stay open until 6pm, he said.

He said that the meeting with the council, which was held on Thursday, had cleared some things up and was necessary, especially because the association had been taken by surprise when learning that the council had taken a decision without any discussions with the association.

On his part, Gauci said that the meeting had been cordial and that the council had been co-operative in helping the association find a hall for it to hold a consultation meeting in.  The mayor said that the main point of divergence between the two was with regards to the closure time, and noted that whilst there were a number of arguments presented with relation to the loss of business, the markets in other localities stop at 1pm.  Gauci said that the council had proposed giving a 30 minute earlier start time to the market and moving its closure time to the afternoon rather than early evening.  This would mean that the market hours would be between 5:30am and 3pm.

Tabone in fact confirmed that the association would be holding a meeting with the hawkers at the Marsaxlokk parish hall following the outcome of Saturday's vote to explain the next steps and to see exactly what they wanted to do.  This being said, Tabone said that he did not think that the market was bothering anybody by remaining set up until 6pm, but called for better management and enforcement on current laws to make sure that all was carried out properly and in accordance to regulations.

"This is a chain and if you take a link out, you will be weakening the chain - so I think that we should work together for everyone to attain a proper balance in our final outcome", Tabone concluded.

The Sunday market at Marsaxlokk sees around 170 hawkers set up stalls and is the only such village market which closes at 6pm. The question over the closure has risen during a public consultation on a White Paper on open-air markets, which was published by the government last November.  The public consultation runs until the end of January, and the white paper includes various reforms, with the paper focusing most notably on the regulation, the issuing of licenses and allocation of stalls, and the supervision of the operations of local markets.


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