By *Jomo Sanga Thomas
(“Plain Talk”, July 17, 2020)
The decision by the government of SVG to order the removal of the vendors behind the Massy supermarket at Arnos Vale is a clear and distinct attempt to disrupt, destroy and dishonour the attempts of the poor among us to make a living through their hard work and efforts.
In this hard season, made worse by the difficulties and disruptions brought on by the coronavirus, it boggles the mind that the government will choose this time to tell a group of vendors that because of sanitation, security and traffic concerns it is forced to give them an ultimatum and warning to depart.
Anyone who knows that area well can easily dispute the reasons offered by government officials for the decision to chase the vendors. These vendors ply their trade in the back of the supermarket. The street is open to one-way traffic, there has not been any major complains about traffic congestion, confusion or crime triggered by the vendors. On the contrary, the fact that vendors are at the back of the supermarket makes for a safer environment. The active presence of vendors offers an added boost to Massy’s security cameras.
The decision to remove the vendors at Arnos Vale is part of an all-out assault on poor people trying to make a decent and honest living. Frequently, vendors in Kingstown are told that they must get off the street because they make the town unsightly and create congestion on the sidewalk. No one stops to think that these vendors are making desperate attempts to make ends meet within the narrow confines of the law. They save or borrow a few dollars, buy some produce or depend on friends and family abroad to send basic foodstuff, personal hygiene products as well as clothing, which they spin into a small profit.
These vendors engage in disciplined work. Day after day they ply their trade, sometimes making few sales. But they stick to their trade because they know that their next meal, books and school fees for their children, clothing and rent depend on them making a sale on the streets.
Some want the vendors removed because vending inconveniences the public and the stalls are unsightly to citizens and tourists. But there is rarely a situation in Kingstown where people cannot get by. There is no real obstruction on Back Street or Bay Street. The plan to offers cubbyholes to vendors in Kingstown demonstrate a major misunderstanding on the part of the authorities on what triggers vending.
No one goes into a building with produce unless there is a magnet that pulls potential shoppers into the structure. The attempt failed in the Kingstown market and it is doomed to failure when these structures are opened to vendors.
Middle Street is akin to a major commercial district Port of Spain, Kingston, Manhattan or Miami. All government need to do is close the area to vehicular traffic and officially make an open-air marketplace. It is sad that a privileged or uninformed section of our people lends support to the political class calls for the removal from public spaces of those trying to make a living. Many are in wild, mindless support for the government’s policy of offering a few hundred dollars to over 6,000 of our citizens. Clearly, we support the growing emergence of the dependency syndrome rather than defend the inalienable right of citizens to make a decent living by utilising their own mind and sweat.
Therefore, to frequently assault the poor, send police to confiscate their products, beating and arresting some in the process are uncalled for and callous. These assaults amount to an attack on some of the best entrepreneurs in the country, people with little or no resources spying an opportunity, setting up shop, and hoping beyond hope that they can turn over a few sales which allow them to feed and school their children and buy much-needed medication for love ones.
Gonsalves wraps himself in victimhood
A few weeks ago, a recording surfaced with the voices of police officers in a heated exchange. A female officer was being reprimanded by the commissioner and other senior officers for a post made on social media. The Commissioner of Police was heard repeatedly cursing the female officer.
Gonsalves, the minister of national security, was asked about the tape and he said he was not rushing to judgment and was awaiting reports from all the relevant parties before deciding. Sadly, even as Gonsalves uttered those words he proceeded to make excuses for the verbal abuse directed at the female officer.
He claimed that police and military high command across the world have a habit of using expletives to their subordinates, and Randolph Toussaint, a deceased former commissioner of police, was notorious in this regard. No comment as to the reprehensible nature of the practice particularly to female officers.
After saying that he awaits the facts before commenting, he disclosed that the female officer had been calling people apologising for her actions. Clearly, he was planting the seeds that it was the junior female officer who was in the wrong.
Finally, and worst, when asked about the female officer’s allegation that had she had sex with a high-ranking officer she would not be facing punishment, Gonsalves did the most dastardly act. He claimed that women have the habit of weaponising sex.
Everyone knows that this is foolishness and tantamount to an indictment of all decent women in SVG and beyond. Women have taken the most horrible abuse from men. Most suffer silently. Too often many are killed. Many have to expose their most private part to politicians, employers and other men in authority in order to get or keep jobs, yet our prime minister, who initially said he was not rushing to judgment and was awaiting reports, condemned all women for having the tendency of weaponising sex. This indictment of our women is misogyny on steroids.
Cognisant that some women have levelled sexual assault charges against him, Gonsalves wrapped himself into victimhood and defended the police high command. The fact that these comments passed without adverse repercussion show how far back we have gone as a nation. Hubris rules our nation.
These two issues demonstrate that Gonsalves is prepared to vamp on the poor and defend the powerful. Our people, especially women and the poor need to connect the dots.
*Jomo Sanga Thomas is a lawyer, journalist, social commentator and a former 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 [email protected].