Deal with street vendors now

Street vendors are actually a threat to economic growth

Street vendors are actually a threat to economic growth

Lloyd Gumbo Mr Speaker, Sir

Mr Speaker Sir, would it make business sense for a supermarket to continue operating if street vendors appear untouchable as they sell the same products that are found in the shop on the verandah of the same shops at nominal prices?

Street vending has dominated news headlines of late, with some maliciously attributing the scourge to the First Lady Amai Grace Mugabe saying she urged law enforcement agents to stop harassing vendors.

The context in which she said that has obviously been deliberately misinterpreted in some quarters for propaganda purposes.

What she said came on the backdrop of reports that municipal police were beating up vendors and confiscating their wares.

In essence, what she advocated was a peaceful and orderly way of dealing with street vendors.

Street vending is an international phenomenon from time immemorial and I will not bother you by trying to put the First Lady in the equation.

Mr Speaker, Sir taking a photograph of Harare’s buildings and streets has become a nightmare.

The picture is without doubt bound to have some intruding objects, particularly vendors or their wares.

Advocates of street vendors argue that this component of the informal sector contributes to economic activity in most developing countries.

But what empirical evidence is there to prove that vendors, who mostly smuggle their wares from neighbouring countries and don’t pay tax for their goods, contribute to economic growth?

First, street vendors are actually a threat to economic growth in this country.

Yes, Finance Minister Patrick Chinamasa recently said the country was supposed to address the economy first before dealing with vending.

So, it is a case of a chicken and an egg as to what should be addressed first.

My humble submission, Mr Speaker, Sir is that street vending is what should be addressed first so that normal economics can take shape.

For instance, there are so many vendors informally setting up their bases right in front of supermarkets and other shops that are paying tax and employing several people.

Most of those products are sold at very low prices, presumably because they are smuggled without paying duties.

Vending is also done at individual or family basis, meaning that they do not pay salaries so razor-thin profit margins would suffice.

But all that is happening at the expense of a formal business that is contributing to the country’s tax revenue, besides creating employment.

Mr Speaker Sir, would it make business sense for a supermarket to continue operating if street vendors appear untouchable as they sell the same products that are found in the shop on the verandah of the same shops at nominal prices?

Buyers are naturally inclined to go for cheaper products; after all tax collections have nothing to do with ordinary people, one would argue.

Before we know it, the same supermarkets will close shop, sending several people jobless and shrinking the country’s revenue inflows in terms of PAYE, VAT, import duties and corporate tax as well as license fees.

The same shop attendants who would have been rendered jobless will also join the bandwagon by taking to street vending for a livelihood.

Local authorities like the City of Harare have established several flea markets scattered all over town to cater for this component of the informal sector.

But still with such formal structures in place, some street vendors have this undying quest for operating illegally.

Mr Speaker, Sir these street vendors have no direct benefit to the national economy.

As such, there is no reason why authorities should just watch them turning Harare into the Capital City of street vending.

It’s either they comply by setting up bases at designated markets or they are shipped out for the benefit of law-abiding businesses.

Secondly, street vending has made life difficult for street and sidewalk users in the city. Vendors’ wares spill-over onto roadways, causing traffic congestion.

There are vegetables all over and clothing ware everywhere and if pedestrians step on these wares, they are harassed by street vendors and sometimes forced to buy the product.

Pedestrians are forced to pass through narrow, crowded aisles, exposing them to pick pocketing.

To avoid this, they are sometimes forced to walk on the roads, further putting their lives at risk given the nuisance that pirate taxis are causing in the city.

Mr Speaker, Sir streets and sidewalks are for driving and walking not for vending.

So, why not follow the user manual?

Thirdly, every local authority has a way of putting up its architecture, but street vendors de-face these.

They haphazardly put up their own structures that take away the beauty of a city because of the dirty, chaos and congestion associated with them.

There is certainly no reason why local authorities and Government should just watch while the face of the country is being de-faced.

Street vending breeds illicit dealings in drugs and the earlier the problem is addressed the better.

The other point is that while law enforcement agents have tried in vain to end street vending, there is some alleged political clout that must be dealt with.

City fathers are aware of thugs disguised as political players who force street vendors to pay protection fees.

Mr Speaker, Sir Zimbabwe is not a banana republic where mafia practices are left to blossom; authorities must root out this problem by getting street vendors off the streets.

Lastly, a study by the International Labour Organisation on Mumbai revealed that 85 percent of street vendors complained of stress-related diseases such as hypertension, high blood pressure and migraine.

This is mainly due to the inhabitable conditions under which they go about their business as they are exposed to direct heat and have no ablution facilities.

Previous studies on this subject have found that lack of toilets results in people suffering from urinary tract infections and kidney problems.

There is, therefore, every reason for local authorities and Government to immediately get street vendors off the streets.

They should either shape up by going to designated sites or ship out.

 Feedback: lloyd.gumbo@zimpapers.co.zw