Holness: "Show Solidarity with the poor!"
For as long as I can remember the crab vendors have been selling crab, soup, and roast corn with coconut at Heroes Circle by the Voluntary Organization for Uplifting Children (VOUCH). I don't eat crab, however, roast corn is a personal favorite and that's the only place to get it in Kingston. I used to be the Executive Director for VOUCH and did quite a bit of community work in the area. A few of the vendors still remember me from my days there when I had to negotiate with them not place their wares against the chain link fence.
We understand the need the highest security precautions with such a high level visit. We also get it that the government wants to put on the best show for our visitors. Crab vendors are not a scene in that show that government wants to be seen. And quietly the Mayor is happy for the excuse to move the vendors who are mainly from Fletcher's Land in West Kingston.
What of the livelihood of the vendors? The problem is one of survival in poor opportunity-less economy, where informality and hustling is the only way to make a living. This, most times, means that survival puts you in conflict with the law and public order. In the JLP administration of the 80s, Edward Seaga developed the Solidarity Programme to address these very issues. Mobile food carts were made available to vendors along with a micro-loan facility which brought the vendor into a more formal system where health and safety standards can be properly supervised and maintained. While at the Ministry of Education, we also faced the same problem with vending and school gates. We implemented the safety and security policy at schools which saw a peaceful removal of vendors which posed a security risk to the safety of children from the gates of most schools.
The surprising solution to the problem was to formalize the vendors and give them a 'franchise' in the school yard where they pay a fee to the school and can be effectively regulated. In turn those previously informal vendors helped to dissuade others from vending outside the school gates.
We don't have to destroy people's livelihood to solve the public order problem. That just exacerbates another problem - crime! The KSAC should engage the vendors in a genuine discussion about how to turn their informal business into a formal enterprise. Mobile food carts, a micro loan, and designated area for sale.