'We are tired of running'
Negril beach vendors seek JTB licences
Claudia Gardner, Assignment Coordinator
WESTERN BUREAU:Itinerant vendors who sell fruits and craft items on the Negril beach strip say they are tired of playing a cat-and-mouse game with law-enforcement officers, and want to be legally registered to walk and sell on the seashore.
One craft vendor, Janice McKenzie, of Silver Spring, in Westmoreland, was spotted carrying her wares in a tote bag on the beach recently. She told Western Focus she had to keep the items hidden in the bag, as she could be arrested for displaying goods on the beach, if spotted by the police or members of the Tourism Courtesy Corps (TCC).
"Oftentimes, you have to be running and hiding; sometimes you have to cut out on the road just so you don't get into any problems with them. And if they catch you, they take your goods to the (police) station and charge you and when you go to the judge in Sav-La-Mar they charge sometimes as much as $20,000. I personally was charged $18,000 or 10 days (in jail)," McKenzie said. "The authorities don't want to give you any licence to walk and sell on the beach. They say you need to have a permanent place, but that is hard to come by. So what do you do?"
"Sometimes the guests are having a quiet moment and don't want to get up and you are not even permitted to go to the chair; and that's stupidness. I have been to small (Caribbean) islands like St Maarten, The Bahamas, Antigua and Curaçao where you are free to go to the chair. I did that personally in St Maarten. That's how I made my living there for eight and a half months, selling the same aloe vera, bracelets, anklets, necklaces. And I find it very strange that in my own country, I am not permitted to do the same thing," she said.
According to Section 23A of the Jamaica Tourist Board Act, "no person shall operate or maintain any tourism enterprise, unless such person is the holder of a licence ...". Under Section 24 of the act, "every person who operates or maintains a tourism enterprise in contravention of Section 23A shall be guilty of an offence and shall be liable on summary conviction before a resident magistrate to a fine not exceeding $20,000 and in default of payment thereof, to imprisonment for a term not exceeding two years".
Dwayne Williams, a 31-year-old fruit vendor, said he has been brought before the courts thrice after being caught peddling on the beach. He too, has resorted to transporting his goods in black plastic bags.
"When wi selling the white people dem, the bowl hat guys (TCC officers) them don't want us to sell them. They say it's against the law and so on; and if they catch us with our things exposed like this, they lock wi up," he said, showing the contents of his bag.
"They carry me down to the station about three times. I paid about $6,000 in total. When dem a come, you haffi run and hide and wait till them pass, else dem run after wi. If wi even run go inna di bush deh so, dem call fi backup and so on, and run wi dung and dem something deh," he added. "Me think the Government fi free up the fruits people and the other vendors fi can walk freely pon di beach. Because we wi pay the tax yes, but dem naw gi wi di licence. We willing and we think we shoulda be licensed."
Another vendor, 30-year-old Serj Jackson, told Western Focus that he started walking and selling tropical fruits on the beach 15 years ago, on weekends, while still a schoolboy, but in recent years, he too has been hauled before the courts.
"The white hat (TCC officers) dem come and ask wi if wi have licence fi sell pon beach, but you can't get licence fi walk and sell pon beach. Dem lock wi up and carry wi go a station - but you get your 'self-bail' - because dem say wi a expose goods pon di beach. We go court an judge charge wi, sometime $4,000 or $5,000," Jackson said.
McKenzie told Western Focus that while tourism officials were right to be concerned about visitor harassment, they could devise measures to keep bothersome persons off the beach.
"It is not the regular person who does a day-to-day business on the beach; it is usually somebody from outside. Because the people who sell day-to-day know there are consequences if they rob the tourists, because the tourists would be in a position to point them out to the police or the TCC officers and they can be thrown in jail or the police would run them off the beach," she said.
"They say it's illegal to walk and sell on the beach and I don't know what about it is illegal, because you are not stealing; you are going to meet the tourist in a nice, polite way and explain what you have for sale. If they want to buy it, it's up to them. If not, then you go ahead and look another customer to do some transaction with you," she added.