Clearing the pavements
Stabroek News
June 16, 2003

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After too many years of indecision, politics and the lack of will, the Mayor and City Council is finally taking a firm stand against vending in the city. The opportunity was provided by a Court of Appeal ruling that vendors on Water Street could sell on its pavements up to 6 pm but thereafter they would have to depart and no permanent structures should be left there.

As a result, the city last week began tearing down stalls on Water Street which had literally become homes for vendors - some replete with electricity connections and other facilities. Vending on other streets is also being tackled by the city. While many of the vendors will continue selling on Water Street under the court-imposed stricture to be off the streets at 6 pm some will undoubtedly have to give up peddling as they live too far away and have no means of storing their goods.

In an economy where large numbers of people are unemployed and under-employed, it is always heart-rending to see means of livelihood being taken away or made more difficult. While the vendors had engaged in an illegality by occupying the pavements they were trying to make an honest living the hard way in a depressed economy. The life of a vendor in the broiling sun, pouring rain and a cash-strapped economy cannot be easy. The vendors had not resorted to a life of stealing, purveying drugs or smuggling though inevitably there would be interfaces.

Nevertheless, there are good reasons why the city should have moved to regularise vending a long time ago on streets.

Foremost among them is the essential preservation of the rule of law. Over a lengthy period, rampant vending had come to potently symbolise the continual decay in the rule of law. The vendors were not amenable to obeying edicts to stay off the pavement and successive city administrations played along whenever it suited them for political reasons to champion the continued violation of the law. Many other persons followed these vendors and before long the street sellers had become synonymous with disregard of the law. Now that a decision has been handed down by the highest court in the land it behoves the authorities to ensure that it is complied with.

Secondly, the pavement vending phenomenon dealt a severe blow to the established trading houses which had already begun to feel the blows of a depressed economy. On Regent Street, (until action was taken against vendors there) and Water Street in particular, many businesses were dwarfed by the permanent structures erected right in front of them. Several made it clear they could no longer survive under these circumstances, the best known being the long-established J.P. Santos Limited. Without overheads and not within the tax net, vendors could outdo any legitimate business selling comparable goods and soon some of the businesses used vendors as proxies to hawk their own merchandise. The type of competition and the other impediments faced by these businesses was and is not good for the morale of the business community and the investment climate.

Thirdly, the throngs of higglers and hucksters on Water Street and other places did nothing for the beautification of the city and the creation of the appropriate atmosphere to attract tourists though it must be said that ordered vending can indeed be a tourism attraction. Drains were also clogged or so encumbered that essential work could not be done. Rubbish was discarded all over by vendors and insanitary conditions created.

Fourth, in a highly crime aware city, the vendors’ `communities’ presented perfect hideouts and cover for choke-and-robbers and other criminals.

Given the dislocation of large numbers of vendors in the current operation and the jeopardy to their income earning, it is important that the city and the government immediately offer whatever help is possible to ease the transition to a new way of making a living or continuation of their business under the current strictures. The government’s offer for more permanent accommodation has ended up in court but that should not prevent it from assisting ad interim. Many of the vendors who would like to continue their business have complained that they desperately need storage space for their goods as it is impossible to transport their loads to and fro everyday. This is something that the city and the government should look at. It would make a lot of sense for the government and the city to convene a meeting with the vendors - as has happened before - to gauge what sort of help could be provided. There is also an impending plan to move some vendors from the Bourda Market but this should not be done until the city can offer these sellers comparable facilities at another location with proper sanitation.

Now that the city has finally decided to take a stern stance on vending, it must make sure that it doesn’t undermine its efforts and authority. Vendors must be dealt with strictly within the ambit of the law. The city’s constables must not seize the opportunity to show favour to one vendor over the other and thereby create conditions for the disobeying of the M&CC’s authority. The city’s vending committee must look closely at any alleged infractions under the new scheme of things and act decisively. If vendors are not allowed in a certain area at a certain time that should apply to all.

For the government’s part, it should ponder the increasing number of people who have been forced to follow this way of life because jobs are scarce or don’t pay enough to meet their responsibilities. It should begin to work with these people to hone their skills in some particular area to prepare them for higher paying jobs whenever these have been created by new investments flowing into the country.

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