Returning order to Regent Street

Stabroek News
October 2, 2000

The removal of encumbrances from Regent Street by city constables on Saturday represents the latest in a series of attempts to bring normalcy to this vital artery in the city.

It strikes at the heart of maintaining law and order in the capital and it must be welcomed in this context without diminishing the reality that large numbers of people earned a living from hawking goods on this street.

Mayor Hamilton Green has stated emphatically that the operation on Saturday "is the beginning of a process to bring some order to the city". Owners of containers will be targeted next. They will be required to remove containers and allied equipment that may be encumbering pedestrian crossings, or parapets etc. The mayor should be given wholehearted support in this campaign and politicians should avoid exploiting this issue.

The problem of vendors on Regent St, Water St and other vital throughfares has dogged the city's administrators for a very long time. The establishment of the Vendors Arcade was one of the many attempts to find a decent solution to this problem. But because of the economic circumstances of the country, more and more people have honed their own versions of micro-entrepreneurship and ventured out on the streets.

Our most recent vending problems on the street confounded all attempts under the mayorship of Compton Young and those who followed to find reasonable solutions. Several useful reports including one by Vibert Parvatan went unheeded and many promises of action against itinerant vendors by mayors - including the present one - fell by the wayside.

The ease with which the courts have granted injunctions to vendors over the years against the city also exacerbated the problem and made it difficult for coherent action to be taken. Ironically, Saturday's dismantling of the illegal encumbrances followed a High Court ruling on an action brought by a vendor.

In the recent past, the city collected fees and agreed under specific circumstances to allow the vendors to conduct their business. This only served to entrench them, expand their numbers and conferred upon them a measure of legitimacy by virtue of their payment of fees.

The resolve of the city to keep Regent Street clear will sorely be tested especially with the approach of the Christmas season. Besides posing fire and traffic hazards, the vendors' stalls and dominating control over the parapets and pavements symbolised the loss of authority and the breakdown of law and order. Slowly, the process to re-establish control can proceed all across the city.

Neither the city nor the government must ignore the plight of those who have been displaced from Regent Street. Their anger and frustration at being suddenly without the means of providing for their families welled up on Saturday and they gave vent to their feelings. These people - the majority of whom are women and single parents - have fashioned their own survival techniques and have put food on their tables and taken care of their children. It is a tough existence and one that has not been officially recognised for its importance to this particular group of persons. It has also highlighted the extent of underemployment and unemployment that besets the economy.

The city council in conjunction with the local government ministry should seek to find some way to help the vendors to turn over the significant stock that some of them say they have been left with because of the surprise move by the city.

Thereafter, the council and the local government ministry must strive to find some location where the vendors could be sited off the streets of the city and where they may still be able to `catch their hand'. Among the options that had been raised several years ago was the use of the old Guyana Stores Limited bond though that may no longer be possible. Vendors should also be offered training via the many technical/vocational education and micro-entrepreneur schemes that exist.

Vendors have been warned repeatedly over the years that their occupation of the pavements and verges is illegal and that they would be removed. A renewed effort is being made on Regent Street and only time can define its success.

The city now has three priorities on this front: maintain order on Regent Street, find a way to ease the impact on the vendors who have been dislocated and move to reclaim other encumbered sections of Georgetown.

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