Another stand-off between street hawkers in Accra and the Accra Metropolitan Assembly (AMA) is imminent, following a court order that the assembly should evict illegal traders from the Knutsford Avenue at the Central Business District.
The Fast Track High Court gave the order following a writ by Mr Labib C. Seraphim and other shop owners in the area that activities of the street traders posed a nuisance to legal business activities at the Knutsford Avenue.
In its ruling, the court declared that "The activities of the hawkers have, in fact, devalued the commercial value of all those shops along that street and has indeed, deprived them of engaging in their lawful business."
The court's decision means that hundreds of hawkers who trade on the Knutsford Avenue, which spans an area of more than 600 square metres and borders between UTC and Makola Market and popularly known as Old Metropole Area, may soon face ejection.
It further established that the AMA had blocked vehicular access to shops on that Avenue for hawkers to use as a marketplace to the detriment of the plaintiff and other legal shop owners.
An earlier exercise executed at the instance of the AMA Chief Executive, Mr Stanley Nii Adjiri-Blankson, was fiercely resisted. And after a brief period of success, the hawkers poured back into the streets in their greater numbers.
Shop owners who felt offended by the hawkers' intransigence then took the matter to court.
Presided over by Mr Justice P. K. Gyaesayor, the Fast Track High Court held that the rights of the plaintiff, Mr Labib C. Seraphim and others had been trampled upon by the hawkers "with the active connivance of the Accra Metropolitan Assembly".
The court described AMA's action in converting the Knutsford Avenue into a market for hawkers as unlawful and accordingly ordered the AMA to provide vehicular access to the Knutsford Avenue, among others. It also ordered the AMA to pay a cost of ¢20 million in favour of the plaintiff.
It, however, declined to grant damages in favour of the plaintiff on grounds that "in evicting the hawkers from the street, the assembly would be put into expenses. The amount to be paid as damages could be used to mobilise resources to carry out the eviction order".
Citing authorities to buttress the court's decision, the court held that the AMA in its own statement of defence said the fact that it took market tolls and other levies from the hawkers did not mean that the hawkers had the permit to trade on that street.
"In effect, the AMA is admitting that it is aware of the illegal occupation of the Knustford Avenue, but nonetheless, collects tolls and thus benefiting from an illegality to the detriment of people like the plaintiff who are legally on their premises having been given the appropriate permission to build in this area for the purpose of carrying out business."
It said the AMA further admitted that it was the proper body to be sued under such circumstances, adding that "indeed they have not denied being the appropriate body to be sued".
The court further held that investigations it conducted revealed that the hawkers had blocked all access routes to vehicles and had taken over the frontage of all the commercial buildings on that street, adding that "the occupants of stores properly licensed to do business in the area have virtually been thrown out with the obvious consent of the defendant, who has refused to take steps to evict these squatters from the area".
It said in every wrong, there must be a remedy and for that matter the remedy of wrong in the case was for the AMA to evict the squatters from the area as endorsed on the plaintiff's writ of summons.
The plaintiff had informed the court that he was one of the several commercial building owners at the Knutsford Avenue whose activities had been crippled by the conversion of the street in front of the stores into a market.
He said all efforts to get the AMA, which exercised both political and administrative jurisdiction over the area to rectify this proved futile.
Counsel for the plaintiff, Mr Godfried Yeboah Dame, said he was yet to file the necessary execution process in respect of the judgement before the eviction could take place.