Entitlement and deprivation: The case of the Stabroek vendors
Freddie Kissoon column
March 9, 2007
Two of my favourite ladies have come out in support of the Stabroek Market vendors – Stella Ramsaroop, my fellow columnist at Kaieteur News (who lost her groove for the second time last year but resuscitated it after she took a sabbatical – could there be a third loss) and former WPA activist Andaiye.
The forced removal of the permanent road sellers outside of the Stabroek Market has occurred in the midst of our celebration of International Women's Day.
Some of the arguments in favour of the vendors are so strongly logical that to reject them is like turning one's back on human decency.
Before the points are outlined, some criticism of the way the structural adjustment programme as adumbrated by the IMF and which began with the Hoyte Economic Recovery Programme in 1988 is in order.
Without getting into an elaboration of the structural adjustment agenda, it suffices to say that it demands a curtailment of public sector spending and it formulates a directive for the free flow of private capital. The state is expected to offer a multiplicity of concessions to foreign and local investors
Arguing against an enabling environment for the private sector is like pushing an open door. Guyana's future is intricately bound up with the robustness of its accommodating investment climate. But since the days of ancient Greek society, we know life is a balance.
The role of the state is to balance the interests of the sectors that comprise society. This will always be the purpose of the state. This is the essential point of the Western world's first book on political philosophy, Plato's The Republic.
No amount of neo-liberalism and neo-conservatism can weaken that fact of sociology, that is, the state has to play an intervening hand to ensure that entitlement is given to all the classes in society.
The danger with the IMF is that while it imposes a structural adjustment programme on the Third World that results in the deprivation of many strata of society, the developed world retains a healthy role for the state. Europe has a smoothly functioning welfare system.
Tony Blair tried to tinker with it in the UK and ran into enormous problems even within his own party. Blair's unpopularity stemmed not only from the despised war in Iraq that he emotionally supported, but also from his attempted reform of social services spending. In the US, despite unspeakable income disparities that has certainly undermined American democracy, because of the federal structure the 50 units that make up the federal system have a sound social spending agenda. For example, no one has argued for the privatisation of the New York subway network
In Guyana, structural adjustment has failed. The coercive prescription has resulted in tax and other concessions for the private sector. But the desired social balance is palpably absent.
Important to note is the fact that the enabling environment that I referred to earlier for the business community has to include the entitlement of other sectors. The investment culture has to be fed by a healthy educational system.
This is an important lesson in the development of the US high-tech industry that the Guyana Government either chooses to ignore or couldn't be bothered to know about. Guyana's entrepreneurial system has to depend on a steady flow of trained skills. If the educational system is run down, then it is going to have a direct impact on productivity and efficacy in the business sector. The perfect example of this is the reduction of state subvention to UG this year by $60M. That certainly is going to hurt UG.
Guyana's structural adjustment programme has not brought about, even in a minimal way, the balance between the social sectors that is a requirement of the state if social stability is to be achieved and be maintained.
Nowhere in Guyana is this more seen that in the income structure of public servants, the lack of spending on higher education and the mistreatment of the vendors.
We can begin to outline the points now by repeating Stella Ramsaroop's observation, though her conceptualisation is of lesser importance than the economic dimension of the reality.
Stella says that in many societies you find these traditional enclaves like what Guyana has outside the Stabroek Market. Anyone that has traveled to the richest countries in the world will know this. I have seen them in Montreal and elsewhere, particularly in Barbados.
These permanent street vendors have acquired a traditional aura about them and after a long period of time, they have become part of the cultural milieu of the particular countries in which they operate.
We turn now to the line of economic reasoning. The street vendors are a social class. They belong to the category of lower, working class. The hounding down of the vendors is a crime that the PNC and the PPP should be ashamed of.
These two parties came out of the womb of the labouring masses. The mistreatment of the vendors is a classic display of the betrayal of the working people by their anti-colonial leaders.
The most horrible manifestation of this post-colonial humiliation of the street sellers is what has been done to them at the Toolsie Persaud site opposite the GBTI head office. Those people were just picked up and dumped there. It is a stark reminder of how cruel Third World leaders can be.
The Rio Summit came and Guyana was transformed into the garden city once again. Hundreds of millions were spent. But look at the conditions under which those vendors work at the Toolsie Persaud site. There can be no doubt that if the Rio delegates had to pass that junction, the vendors would have had millions poured into their structure to spruce it up.
The political bosses knew CWC was coming four years ago. They had to know that thousands of visitors would be in the Stabroek vicinity. They had to know that a nice ambience had to be created there. How can you just ask the vendors to vanish into thin air to make way for CWC tourists?
These people have families. Many are single mothers. They belong to the Guyanese society. They have a right to entitlement that the state provides. The courts granted them an injunction. What is the rest of society doing for them?