By *Jomo Sanga Thomas
(“Plain Talk” Nov. 18, 2022)
What’s intrinsically wrong with vending on the streets?
Plain Talk wanted to reiterate its strong opposition to how local authorities treat vendors — some of the hardest-working entrepreneurs. The aggressive tactics against these poor, disadvantaged citizens represent a strong working-class bias and callous disregard for this most economically vulnerable section of our population.
Under the guise of cleaning up Kingstown, vendors in the city are told they cannot vend in places not designated for such activities. The sidewalks must be uninhibited at all times. No vendor will be allowed close to a business place. Vendors’ livelihood be damned. And to think that all this mean-spiritedness is led by a government whose party rode on the backs of the poor to win and sustain itself in power. Part of the party’s charm was to tell vendors not to leave the streets because they, too, must make a living. Now the “Comraid” and his clansmen lead the charge denigrating and chasing the vendors.
This campaign, led by Clayton Burgin, the warden of the Kingstown Board, is coupled with a propaganda assault on vendors that describe them as dirty, nasty, filthy souls intent on making Kingstown a shanty town.
Vending is driven by the lack of alternative means of living in this wretched land. Forty-plus percent of the youth population is unemployed. Close to 40% live in poverty. A vast swath of the remaining citizens ekes out a living just above the poverty line. This is an explosive situation that will burst asunder if not addressed soonest.
That the government intended to have four areas for vendors, the Central Market, the old market across from the Iron Man and the two buildings across from Greaves Supermarket, is indicative of the dire economic situation we face as a nation.
Its all-or-nothing iron-fisted approach to problem-solving is bound to bring it into conflict with vendors and their families. Government planners miss the single most crucial point about vending. Vending has evolved beyond the old market concept. People went to the traditional market to buy fruits, vegetables and ground provisions. Today’s vendors spy an opportunity to make a sale and capitalise on it.
Some sell products formerly sold only in shops, stores and supermarkets. In a capitalist society, businesses compete with each other and either survive or go under. Two recent examples are P.H. Veira and Co. Ltd and Grand Bazaar. Sadly, the government tells our vendors, all of whom are Vincentians, that they cannot aggressively compete. Our small vending entrepreneurs are forbidden from offering products for sale next to or in front of a business place. The absurd argument is that the vendors, most of whom don’t have products valued at more than EC$1,000, are unfairly competing with million-dollar businesses.
They are shunted off to the side to ply their trade in cubby holes. Vendors are forced to go into structures that have little ventilation. The stalls erected in these structures are much too small to securely store most vendors’ property. The sad reality is that the government’s plan will have a negative impact on vendors. Many of them will be forced out of the trade. The economic situation in the country will worsen, and people will be compelled to find other ways of surviving.
A better way would be to put realistic and organised structures under the motto “Live and let’s live”. SVG is a small, depressed economy. Many of those with stable jobs and incomes are forced to augment their earnings by other means. Some engage in corrupt practices; others have a side hustle.
Therefore, the way to keep vendors in the Central Market is to place a government office like license and income tax on the top floor, which causes a constant daily stream of persons into the building. Close off Middle Street from the police barracks to Heritage Square to vehicular traffic. Similarly, close Heritage Square, bridge the river, disallow parking and traffic, build seating, plant trees and build stalls. A corporate/government partnership can work wonders in remodelling and beautifying Heritage Square and the close-off street with structures that are more pleasing to the eye.
In addition, hold a lottery for limited vending at some of the most popular business houses. Some business places take their wares onto the sidewalk. There is nothing intrinsically wrong with a vendor making a living there. If the decision is taken to have two vendors, select the two that were there longest.
We can do this if we try just a little harder. There is no need to clamp down on vendors, thus driving more of our people into economic hardship.
Gonsalves and his Clansmen have awakened
Finally, the Gonsalves Government decided to stop poisoning its citizens and destroying our environment.
The news that makes music to the ears of those environmentally-conscious citizens came in an announcement by Agriculture Minister Saboto Caesar that the government has banned the importation of the cancer-causing chemical, malathion.
The chemical is used for mosquito fogging. Over the years, environmental activists such as Lennox Lampkin and yours truly, among others, have called for the banning of this and other dangerous chemicals. Those calls have fallen on deaf ears until now. The ban on the usage of malathion would become effective on Dec. 31, 2022.
Fogging with malathion was frequently done across the country without regard for the health
and safety of citizens. Apart from being identified as a cancer-causing agent, malathion has been shown to have a crippling effect on bees, butterflies, insects and plant pollination.
Minister Caesar noted that the ban on malathion follows a similar ban on glyphosate. Without crediting long-time campaigners, he claimed the impending ban as “another success in our quest to create a cleaner and healthier environment”.
Better late than never.
*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].