I will admit that I was both shocked and angry on reading in the Kaieteur News of 19th December that the CEO of Giftland Mall intends to institute an entrance fee for those wanting to access the said mall during the Christmas celebration. Indeed, compounding my shock and anger was the fact that the article starts with “once again shoppers will be required to pay a fee to enter the Giftland Mall during the Christmas Season.” This is somewhat of a practice of Giftland but the fact that I have never heard a word of protest from any interest group in Guyana is disappointing.
The said article goes on to quote Mr Beepat as offering the following reasons for requiring a $3000 redeemable entrance fee: (a) to reduce loitering at the location; (b) to ensure the mall is a safe place; (c) to avoid the issue of overcrowding. It is never a good thing when business establishments, especially those known for selling widely used merchandise, consider it necessary to implement systems that will deny access to their establishment by law-abiding citizens. Assuming there is widespread agreement on this, we need to examine these reasons offered by the CEO for resorting to this approach to problem solving.
First, loitering is a behaviour typical of the young; it is not new behaviour. Writing about England around 1625, one historian tells us that adults described young men as only good for molesting ladies on the streets and pelting stones at old people’s windows. Modern society has merely provided additional locations for youths to loiter and continue similar behaviours, and malls are the most favoured locations. There are two distinct groups of young people at the malls. There are the more conventional youths who use the occasion to spend their allowance, stand around conversing, engage in window shopping or merely wander around with the hope of catching the eyes of the opposite sex. Then there are the delinquents who are likely to spend their time at the mall wandering through stores; casing items they take a fancy to and contemplating the chances of absconding with same without being caught; picking fights; making provocative comments to female shoppers or just window shopping. While some of these activities are distasteful to say the least, it is questionable whether imposing an entrance fee is a just approach for deterring loitering. A fee of $3000 places a burden on poor families and thus ends up, intentionally or not, denying children of the poor the opportunity of enjoying the mall when it is all spruced up. A family with three teenagers must find at least $9000 for the children to spend time at the mall. Redeemable or not that is one hell of a difficult ask of poor families.
Second, the desire to maintain the safe environment of the mall is laudable; however this could best be achieved by strengthening the security efforts that were articulated by Mr Beepat as already in place for the season. For example, there is his revelation that Giftland will have 60 security personnel working at the mall during the height of the Christmas shopping season. He also talked about seeking the assistance of the Guyana Police Force in providing added support. This is encouraging, and Mr Beepat would know that there is no shortage of security services that could be turned to if he feels the need.
Finally, there is Mr Beepat’s concern about overcrowding. Overcrowding at shopping centres at the height of the Christmas season is nothing new to Guyana. Indeed, the same would be true for most countries in the world when citizens are observing national holidays. Here in the USA Black Friday comes to mind. Last Black Friday I visited a store here in Georgia; on arrival I was confronted with a long queue of persons waiting to enter. On enquiring I was told the store was filled to capacity and so as a group exited the store, a group of a similar number was allowed entry. The system worked most efficiently. Why can’t Giftland implement a similar system? This willingness to first think of instituting a system that ends up discriminating against the poor or some other unfortunate group, demands some attention.
Editor, rarely do we think of the full impact of our behaviours. We tend to consider only how our behaviour will affect us and those we care for – whether these be relatives, friends, party supporters, or as in the case of Giftland, customers. But very often our behaviour can have wider negative social consequences. The thing here is that these behaviours usually have the support, the sympathy, the understanding of the general society. Who will not find it commendable when someone does something in the interest of his family? Which of us does not find it encouraging when a businessman/woman takes action with the expressed intention of wanting to ensure the safety of customers? It is this type of legitimacy that we tend to give to behaviour when offering justification for it, and which stifles wider consideration of the unintended consequences of our actions.
Editor, I do not know Mr Beepat, and I have no reason to believe he is not an honourable man who wants to make money while serving his country. However, we must remember when we are involved in business that is intended to serve the general public that we must take care not to come up with solutions to challenges that disproportionately negatively impact a group of citizens that has done no wrong, but has been singled out and denied access simply because we perceive the group as having in its ranks persons we fear.