Peeping Tom
Kaieteur News
February 23, 2007

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The Mayor and City Council needs to do much more than simply remove vendors from selling outside of the Stabroek Market. They also need to remove all the permanent structures that have been established over the years in that vicinity.

The Georgetown municipality has for too long allowed a situation to develop whereby pavement and other forms of vending were allowed to expand uncontrollably throughout the city. Trying to reverse that development is going to take years but the experiences gained from observing the expansion of vending, should be a lesson to all those who tacitly encouraged this activity under the pretext of empowering socially disadvantageous groups.

Vending in an ad hoc, unlawful and unregulated manner is not going to empower anybody in Guyana .

The best thing for those who have been displaced from the present exercise carried out by the Mayor and City Council of Georgetown is to move on with their lives and seek other lawful means of earning an income.

I accept some of the criticisms made by Uncle Bob about the manner of the removal of the vendors from outside of the market. They should have been given more notice but I do not accept the argument that legitimate expectations could have been created that they would have been allowed to remain there indefinitely.

Guyana is on a roll. Raphael Trotman recognises this fact and the more we encourage Guyana to have orderly development, the better it will be for even the opposition politicians because I believe that increased incomes for the average citizen does more than give a better material life; it also encourages a more informed polity and a more enlightened public will, I believe, vote in a rational way and cast aside mediocrity.

I am not oblivious that vending is also a human problem. I too have heard the pleas of those displaced vendors. Many have explained about the number of children they have to take care of. This is the usual melody that is sung whenever the authorities move against vendors. The authorities are asked whether they prefer the vendors to take to crime rather than continue to vend.

When the pavement vendors were moved from Regent Street , the same doomsday cries were heard. It was even prophesised that the crime rate would have spiked and that many single-parent mothers would die of starvation and have to live on the streets. I have not seen any of those who were removed from Regent Street in the begging line. People move on with their lives.

I have called before in these columns for a reduction in vending in Guyana . I know for sure that it does contribute in creating income for large numbers of women in the country. However, there is the flipside that is not often considered. Many of these women are often never out of the debt-trap and spend a great deal of their lives juggling between meeting the payments to their suppliers and spending on their own basic needs. While vending can provide an escape from poverty, I believe that any study of pavement vending in Guyana would prove that the vast majority of those vending, instead of being empowered, remain marginalised.

There was once a time when pavement vending was threatening to bring the city to ruins. Vendors were simply squatting in front of established businesses. The defence used for not acting condignly against this unlawful practice was that this was really part of a historical competition for space. The person who made this argument knows who he is.

In the end, the social costs of increased pavement vending outweighed the social benefits and there was no option but to try to rein in this practice which was done and which created a real boom in business that has not ended.

I have always argued here that the defining moment that boosted this country's commercial sector and by extension the overall turnover of money in the economy was not anything that was done by the policymakers managing the economy, but was a simple decision taken by the Mayor and City Council of Georgetown, some years ago to remove the pavement vendors from the streets.

There have been numerous spin-off effects which while necessarily not directly benefiting those displaced, would have indirectly benefited them. Firstly, it created a boom and with this boom, more opportunities opened for the poor.

Secondly, it encouraged more spending in the economy with the result that there was demand for more services and this in turn created employment opportunities. I am willing to bet that today Regent Street alone employs more workers than the combined number of vendors and store workers during the days when pavement vending was at its peak.

Those who say vending creates economic space for the poor should by now have learnt a lesson. Vending is no way to develop any country; it never was.