The other day I was Downtown (Kingston) running some errands and stopped to witness a group of police officers confiscate at least 15 bags of goods along with the crates they were being sold in. Naturally this caused negative reactions from the people looking on, after seeing the distress of the vendors having to give up these goods. But let’s avoid choosing any sides here and try to analyse the situation a bit further than the surface, to see who are the real victims in this situation; if there are more than one. Usually this kind of thing happens when vendors stubbornly sell in the no-vending zones or neglect renewing their expired vending license. This particular instance however had to do with expired vending licenses. Common sense should tell you that the law has the right to stop anyone from partaking in any activity deemed to be outside the bounds of what is lawful. If this applies to the perpetrators of murders, drug trafficking and lotto scamming then the same should apply to people vending illegally.
Now let’s approach this objectively, feelings aside and with the welfare of the Jamaican economy as the endpoint. Which side of this triangle is best for Jamaica land we love? Looking out for the interests of the formal economy, these vendors operating illegally or the financial welfare of the consumers? If we side with the store owners (stakeholders of the formal economy) and endorse the removal of these vendors then we help in fostering a stronger formal economy; since without the choice of buying from these street vendors, consumers will have to shop in stores (according to basic economics, I think). And If we side with the vendors now, licensed or not, then we help in lowering our employment rate for those who can’t qualify for a white/blue color job as well the ones who do qualify but can’t get a job. Finally if we side with the consumers, which I’m assuming would prefer to spend less than what they’d pay for goods sold in stores instead of a safer environment to shop, then the vendors benefit again. So one side says Store owners, the second says the street vendors but the third says both the people and the vendors. So again, who do we choose?
The answer is in the tax. Wherever the tax lies, is the most logical side to choose with the welfare of Jamaica still in mind. Remember the government has to eat too, and they have national services and provisions that they need to maintain with this tax revenue. Of the two economies, I’d assume the formal one is more likely to file tax returns than the informal. Hence why, I believe, the police put so much pressure on the street vendors. Not because they find joy in taking away a family’s only source of income, but because they’ve been instructed by the powers that be to do so or they themselves might be without a source of income. If Jamaicans on a whole weren’t evading taxes so diligently, this wouldn’t be an issue. We’d have the money to:
- Invest in more arcade structures and vending zones to facilitate the vendors
- Invest in technology that would make the registration and re-licensing process for a street vending license more accessible and efficient
- Invest more in our entrepreneurs that would help alleviate unemployment in our economy by the very nature of what they do.
So if we pay our taxes when they are to be paid then according to theory, everybody can be happy; No sides chosen.