Jomo Sanga Thomas is a lawyer, journalist, social commentator and Speaker of the House of Assembly in St. Vincent and the Grenadines.(iWN file photo)

By Jomo Sanga Thomas*

(“Plain Talk”, Nov. 15, 2019)

St. Vincent is a poor, resource starved country, but our country’s natural beauty is universally acclaimed. Our people are abundantly rich in spirit and enterprise. Most of us will do almost anything to take care of our families. Because of our small economy and the way it is ordered, most of our people experience enormous difficulties to make ends meet. And this is not for a lack of trying.

As we attempted to show last week, the unemployment rate in SVG is at least 40%. The salaries and income of workers are some of the lowest in the Caribbean. The average monthly salary is about EC$1,300.

Consequently, employed persons, including civil servants, ply a side trade to make ends meet.

The pressures to survive are great and growing. Because of the commercialised, materialistic way our society is organised, even more economic pressures are placed on the population. The burden on the poor demands extraordinary creativity, if not ingenuity to ensure survival.

This brings me to the vexed question of vending in Kingstown and the proper use of the Kingstown Vegetable Market. A few decades ago, vending in Kingstown was almost non-existent. It was frowned on by most citizens.

Today, we have hundreds of vendors, and they are all over Kingstown. Most vendors ply their wares in peace and quiet, patiently waiting for a sale. But in the best-fertilised fields, you will always find some weed. Occasionally, things come to a head, and the strong arm of the state is used to destroy people’s sheds and tables and worse, confiscate their hard-earned produce.

This is what happened last week outside Ace Hardware store. Police, allegedly responding to illegal activity, responded by using roughhouse tactics. They cleared the entire gallery, manhandling some of those gathered there in the process. Interestingly, they did not make a single arrest. The rationale for vamping on the vendors was that they were responding to alleged illegal activity. In fairness to the authorities, it must be said that at least one person was shot and killed in that area. But that incident does not warrant a Peter-pays-for-Paul-and-Paul-pays-for all response. It does not take a genius to know that such heavy-handed response will prove to be counterproductive.

Amazingly, since the police action, a minimum of four armed police officers have been stationed at the spot where the “bad eggs” regularly congregate. Now, if this ain’t stupidness, tell me what is?

Most people may not respect police, but police are feared. They know that the police can be rather brutal. They know most of the officers are armed. Therefore, wherever there is a police presence, bet your life you are just a little safer. Why then were the police given licence to goon the honest vendors out of a livelihood because of suspicious activities of a few? An active police patrol in the area could have accomplished much more with little or no harm to police/civilian relations.

This episode compels one to wonder whether the police force has an undercover unit that investigates, infiltrates, and gains actionable intelligence which will allow the state to arrest and try those suspected of criminal activities.

There is absolutely nothing wrong with vending in Kingstown. From time beyond mind, people try their very best to survive. It is the state’s responsibility to order society in such a manner to take care of the needs of all its citizens. When the state proves itself unable and unwilling to so order society, the people will act. And the people have been acting. They put a little something together and try to sell it. By plying their trade on the streets, many gain enough to take care of basic needs and send their children to school.

The state must do better with organising Kingstown. It can close off Middle Street from the police headquarters to Heritage Square to vehicular traffic from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. to allow for vending. It can do a similar thing at Heritage Square. It can declare that there will be no more than five vendors on each block, and they must be a certain distance from each other.

There are two additional things we can do. To get more vendors in the market, we must place “magnet”, institutions such as Family Services, Licensing and Tax offices into the top level to bring people into the structure. Alternatively, the government can close down the Solidarity Car Park and turn it over to the vendors.

In time, we can get the World Bank or some friendly country to build a high ceiling simple market in that area.

To prevent everyone driving into Kingstown whenever, we can place a $10 tax on all vehicles that enter Kingstown Mondays to Saturdays between the hours of 7 a.m. and 5 p.m. They have such a tax in London and other major cities across the world. Or we can develop a parking meter system to deal with vehicular congestion in Kingstown. All we need is a little thinking and some serious planning.

Most likely, these suggestions will be scoffed at because they demand sacrifice from the more privileged among us. It is far easier to dump on the poor and less unfortunate. If we continue to tell the poor and less fortunate that they alone must make sacrifices, they will refuse; they will rebel and SVG will become totally and completely ungovernable. We disregard our history and underestimate the rebellious and fighting spirit of our people, to our own misfortune.

Finally, under no condition should we order our society to take care of foreign taste. We should strive for a cleaner, and much more ordered society, Kingstown included, but we should never sacrifice the less fortunate among us in a mad rush to please the taste of tourists and the more comfortable among us.

*Jomo Sanga Thomas is a lawyer, journalist, social commentator and Speaker of the House of Assembly in St. Vincent and the Grenadines. 

The views expressed herein are those of the writer and do not necessarily represent the opinions or editorial position of iWitness News. Opinion pieces can be submitted to news.iwitness@gmail.com.

12 replies on “For a more ordered SVG”

  1. Rawlston Pompey says:

    PLIGHT AND STRUGGLE OF THE INDIGENT

    There can be no ‘…Talk’ that is ‘…Plainer’ than this.

    Law enforcement therefore, could be considered grossly reckless not to know that the only people who often seek to manipulate and exploit their docility, if not stupidity, are the policy-makers.

    Deputy Commissioner of Police Frankie Joseph might wish to read these comments.

    Recently met him in Antigua and Barbuda. Not only has a good grasp of ‘…Man Management,’ but also the environment in which law enforcement operates.

    None may deny that the ‘…Rule of Law’ shall prevail in a civilized society.

    Makes little sense deploying armed personnel, ‘…a minimum of four’ on static duty ‘…under the verandah of a private business entity’ where the ‘…bad eggs’ are laid or simply to see who might be ‘…vending legitimately or who might be peddling illegally.’

    The tendency of some people to place a wedge between the citizens and the police, is well known.
    This is particularly so, if the ‘…ends satisfies the means.’

    For the ‘…Indigent,’ life is a constant ‘Struggle.’

    Thus, there are those members of the society that are disadvantaged for reasons of;

    (i) ‘…chronic poverty; and

    (ii) …Under employment or lack of employment opportunities.’

    Sociologists have argued that those that struggle are usually the ones that shall devise that which they have rightly described as ‘…Survival Strategies.’

    Contrastingly, people in ‘…privileged positions,’ and specific to those without scruple often devised strategies called ‘…Creative Enrichment.’ Their conduct is often associated with ‘…White Collar Crime.’

    Baring criminality, ‘Vending’ is just one of those strategies.

    There will be legitimacy with some vending. Conversely, there will be activities that are starved of legitimacy.

    Law enforcement shall take a critical look and accordingly address that which begs for legitimacy.

    In the given situation, and according to the writer to ‘…make Peter pay for Paul’ and then make all pay for Paul’s sins, speaks to;

    (a) ‘…in-compassion and insensitivity;

    (b) …professional senselessness; and

    (c) …improper utilization and/or deployment of manpower.’

    Law enforcement would be reckless not to know that the only people on their side are the citizens-indigent and affluent.

  2. So many inaccuracies in this writing by Jomo. To start off:…
    How is SVG a resource-starved nation? Compared to what other nation(s)?
    THIS IS SIMPLY FALSE!
    We have Geothermal energy, We have fertile soils, we have clean drinking water, We have an ocean with fish around us. It looks like Jomo is still ULP! Saying we have little or no resources is a ULP excuse for thier poverty economics. Compared with Singapore that has almost no farming, no mining, no more fish, has no oil or geothermal and even has to import thier drinking water! Why then are the people of Singapore the wealthiest people on earth? Has the strongest economy on earth, etc…?
    Jomo suggests we support more vending and even make vending areas. THIS HAS BEEN TRIED BUT DOES NOT WORK BECAUSE VENDERS WANT TO GO WHERE THERE IS THE MOST FOOT TRAFFIC AND NOT A OUT-OF-THE-WAY CAR PARK!
    Jomo demonstrates here that he not only does not understand economics (like most of the ULP) but does not understand vending.
    He says:
    “there is absolutely nothing wrong with vending in Kingstown.”
    WHAT?
    Maybe he has never had to try to walk around Viera Supermarket. I am sure he avoids it.
    To go between Windward and Leeward Jomo says everyone should be forced to pay a toll, because to do so all drivers are forced to go through Kingstown even if they do not want to. Paying a toll to go to Kingstown will insure prices of produce will go up (because I have never seen a farm in downtown Kingstown), and Jomo pretends to have sympathy for the poor.
    The truth is:
    THE VENDERS SHOULD NOT BE PUNISHED EVEN THOUGH THE CONDITIONS OUR GOVERNMENT HAS CREATED (and Jomo supports)TO CAUSE VENDING IS SHAMEFUL!
    Venders are trying to make an honest living instead of breaking into houses and stealing, but our government has such high Customs Duties and ever-increasing taxes that it is too expensive for entrepreneurs to create products at a reasonable price to sell for a profit. Anything created in SVG will cost so much that the rest of the world could not afford to buy it, so they would certainly buy elsewhere.
    That is why we do not produce and instead have street vending as the biggest industry in SVG!

    Obviously, we are poor because of the GREED, lack of concern and stupidity of our government!

  3. The suggesting to create “vending areas” will not work because most people do not go to Kingstown to visit the venders. The venders set-up in areas where there are many people. The area on Middle Street Jomo suggests for vending is already filled with venders. His entire suggestions including tolls to enter Kingstown are frightening and impossible even if they do it in London. Kingstown is not London. This is not Great Britain. After reading his suggestions I am glad he is leaving government, His suggestions insure making a bad situation even worse. Strange he does not make any suggestions to change our economic policy, whereby other occupations would become more appealing than street vending, and thereby reducing the amount of venders.

  4. Jomo many of the things, you say be true however, you are losing, credibility in the eyes of the public. In the last few months your credibility index has taken suffered a severe shock to the extent that a lot of people may question the legitimacy of anything that you have say. Your support for the homosexual community has the potential to overturn Vincentian society as we once know it from a moral perspective.

    Some may see your gay agenda as being that as being opportunistic or better yet an economic mercenary. You may stand to gain enormously from your support for the gay community. I will like you to respond to my piece. If you write an article, you should respond to readerase comments.

    1. So true that “If a ship sails from sight, it doesn’t mean its journey ends, it simply means the river bends.”

      Jomo’s vital encounters of these times are his failure to have overlooked the ‘bends’ as ‘he for a little while disregarded history and underestimate the rebellious and fighting spirit of our people, to his own misfortune’.

  5. I am utterly astounded and absolutely astonished by much of what this opportunist JOMO SANGA THOMAS has written this time, knowing that the man is both a lawyer and one who also still sits in the House of Parliament as its speaker.

    He tells us that the unemployment rate in SVG is at least 40%. Many family members would say that it is much, much higher than just 40% and all such occurring under his supported ULP Gonsalves family administration. But worst, how can this House Speaker and Lawyer there condone law breaking in the form of illegal Street Vending? Does the 40% unemployment permit lawlessness in our streets?

    Me apt to think, that this rampaging opportunist, is so self-centred, he care neither for the illegal street vendors nor for our suffering nation!

  6. Jomo has lost his mind. He should be committed to the mental health institution.He has has lost his morality and has such great hatred for SVG and the masses.. The POOR. Thats right. PLAIN TALK.

  7. The police need better communication with it citizens. They need to stopped treating citizens bad because they carry a gun . I think that people’s has to survive in anyway in order to take care of there family. The government should stop taxing so high tax when family try to send their families good from overseas. Finally the light bill and water bill is what making people so poor, after paying these bills so family’s is left with no money. Wake up and help the poor peoples of st vincent because st Vincent is a beautiful country just poor peoples cant get a break

  8. I’m so sick and tired of of you people who are always putting your country down in such a negative way. Instead of working together in making a positive impact on the Island, such a shame and disgrace what you are doing to get attention. I’m a Vincentian living abroad , I’m so proud of what my country has accomplished. I get so angry when people speak such garbage. Stop looking for attention and do something positive for the people of my beautiful country SVGT. May God continue to bless the Prime Minister The Honourable Ralph Gonsalves, members of his party for all the positive and great things that he is doing in making a better SVGT.

  9. This reinforces my long held belief that lawyers should not be in politics. They lack the capacity for sensible reasoning and practical solutions. They are only trained to react when something goes wrong. Here is a genius whose government is touting our shift towards reliance on tourism saying that we shouldn’t give consideration to their taste. Thank god you didn’t win your seat

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