There was a time in this country at the level of government, where not to know what was happening in an area of responsibility was considered a travesty and persons were held to account. In some instances time has gone into reverse to the point where the pretence of not knowing is considered an acceptable form of justifying unsavoury conduct and lending support to unsavoury acts.
Since the new Georgetown Mayor and City Council (M&CC) has been installed, its treatment of vendors reflects the flagrant transgressing of rights, disregard for decency in civil engagements, the violation of laws, and the refusal to accept that times have changed.
Let me make it very clear, lest what is said is misconstrued and focus is diverted from the thrust of my position: I am not opposed to the efforts of the M&CC to bring order to Georgetown and regularise the vending situation. I am opposed to these efforts being executed without regard for the laws, time-honoured principles, and respect for the rights of the vendors.
The vendors are a part of this nation’s formal economy and can be categorised as small businesses. There is no question about their legitimacy, given that the council collects revenue from them and they are expected to pay same. It also has to be recognised that this sector grew out of a need for people to engage in economic activities to sustain themselves and families, and to provide a service to society whose population needs and wants are diverse and include the need for convenience.
Stabroek Market was built in the 1880s. Even with whatever expansion was done in the post-colonial period, the population and needs of the communities being served have outlived the size of the market. There are more people traversing George-town who have multiple preferences, come from diverse income brackets, and are desirous of the goods and service being offered. No member of the council can admit to not patronising this sector, neither can the council deny that the fees paid by this sector do not play a vital role in its function. The vendors are responding to and satisfying the outlined conditions.
The vendors are not a nuisance to society. Their ingenuity in finding economic opportunities for themselves and others when traditional avenues did not and could not accommodate them, is to be applauded. The fact that the M&CC may not have anticipated the varied population trends and needs, and put systems in place to allow trade to take place in a structured manner after consulting with the vendors, as against the occasional high-handed approach, is not the fault of the vendors.
And given what is taking place, vendors may question the wisdom of their choice in casting a ballot for those who today threat them with contempt. It is important to ensure this aspect of our economy is allowed to thrive, like any other. It is a non-excuse to hide being claims that criminal activities are being conducted where persons are vending, hence the vendors have to be removed and their structures ruthlessly dismantled.
Where there is a known presence of criminal activities or the possibility of the same occurring, it is the role of the M&CC to attend to this by improving their crime-fighting techniques, not dispossessing those engaged in legitimate trade and those who desire to patronise them. The nation must not countenance incompetence by persons placed in positions of authority, who, instead of delivering quality services within the confines of the laws and time-honoured principles, are coming up with spurious excuses for not performing and respecting people’s rights.
On the issue of the matter of the shop at the Stabroek Market square which was dismantled by the M&CC, it now says that it was unaware of a court case; this is unacceptable. There is an existing dispute between the M&CC and the Ministry of Public Infrastructure as to the ownership of the land that the M&CC would be aware of. As such, until there is a court determination of ownership, the M&CC is out of order to ascribe to itself the authority to demolish the property thereon, under any condition.
The continued contempt for the rule of law that we are witnessing by the M&CC has been pervasive, and is largely responsible for the mess this country has found itself in. This lawlessness must be addressed. The M&CC must be held accountable for its actions. There is no excuse for ignorance of the law, or using ignorance as an opportunity to commit dastardly acts against the citizens of this country.
The contempt for citizens and their welfare, including the laws established to protect them, will continue until the citizens stand up, take strident positions, and hold elected leaders accountable. In a representative democracy those elected are there to serve the people, not treat them like serfs and preside over them like lords.