By Bejay Browne
SHOPKEEPERS draped black banners across the entrance to Paphos municipal market yesterday over arguments of discrimination among stall owners, some of whom refuse to pay their electricity and council bills.
Paphos councilor Nicos Konnikos said he would meet with shop owners to try and find a solution but stressed that outstanding rents and unpaid electricity bills are at the heart of the problems.
He said that a long time ago the market in Ktima — Paphos old town — used to be an open area and with communal lighting which served everyone. Then, about 15 to 20 years ago, many stall holders stopped selling fruit and vegetables and started selling souvenirs and other goods, after which the area was partitioned into two zones.
There are 19 different shop owners and some of them run more than one shop.
Konikkos said that businesses with the newer contracts pay for their electricity. The problem lies with the older contract holders. These were drawn up years ago and obviously they didn’t stipulate electricity payment as the market wasn’t yet separated.
“Each shop has a separate meter so they know how much they are consuming. They even have problems amongst themselves and complain to us that some are paying and some are not.”
But some shopkeepers are up in arms over the recent decision to enforce payments and say this will lead to many families being forced to shut up shop.
They said the area has suffered a massive downturn for years and that most are only just able to scrape a living. They noted that the council decision could lead to 18 families being out of work.
But Konikkos said that no one expects to get electricity for free and that rents must be paid.
“If it is so bad year after year, why do they still have shops in the market, and why are their neighbours able to pay?”
The councilor said that measures had already been implemented to try and ease the economic burden of those paying their bills.
He said concessions were made to those signing the new contracts. “They were granted a 25% reduction in rent this year. This will also apply to the rest of the people when they sign the new contracts.”
Konikkos said that shopkeepers using the economic crisis as a reason not to pay rent or electricity were talking nonsense.
“Some of these people haven’t paid rent for four or five years. The municipality was wrong to let it go on for so long.”
However, the councilor said that the municipality may consider paying the outstanding electricity bills for these properties until the end of the year on condition that they sign new contracts to pay regularly thereafter.