Talks between the government and the Valletta open market hawkers are expected to lead to an agreement that will see the monti move permanently to the upper part of Merchants Street, Times of Malta has learned.

Sources said that while the agreement, expected to be officially announced next week, meets most of the hawkers’ demands, the planned move is being vehemently resisted by shop owners in the area.

“We have reached a deal and we will now be able to mount our stalls in the upper part of Merchants Street, from where the Valletta market, or Is-Suq tal-Belt, is situated,” a hawker told this newspaper.

When contacted, Joe Zrinzo, who said he was serving as a “voluntary interlocutor” with the government to settle the issue on behalf of the hawkers, said talks were “in a very advanced stage”.

“What I can tell you is that a final agreement is round the corner and is expected to be announced by the government soon.”

Economy Minister Chris Cardona, who will have stalls right in front of the building housing his ministry, also confirmed that an agreement would soon be finalised.

“We are working on an agreement and an announcement will be made next week,” he told this newspaper. Members of the Merchants Street shop owners’ community said they had heard “rumours” about the move, adding they hoped they were not true.

“We have been given the Prime Minister’s word that the monti hawkers will not remain in Merchants Street. We hope the Prime Minister keeps his word,” a committee member said.

Labour signed a formal agreement with the hawkers before the 2013 election to relocate the open market to Ordnance Street, in front of the new Parliament building.

However, following the unveiling of unsightly new stalls, which the government had commissioned, public uproar erupted both on the choice of stalls and, moreover, the location, and the government changed its decision. Negotiations were ongoing since then, with the hawkers making new demands and the government considering its options.

Times of Malta is informed that the Prime Minister delegated Principal Permanent Secretary Mario Cutajar to deal with the hot potato, together with Dr Cardona.

Efforts to contact Mr Cutajar yesterday proved futile and the newspaper was told that he was abroad on government business. So far, the hawkers are allowed to operate in the lower area of Merchants Street, behind the President’s Palace and further down. They complained, however, wanting to move to another location to boost their business.

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