Mon | Jun 27, 2016

Regulate, don't quash, street vending

Published:Thursday | February 7, 2013 | 12:00 AM


JAMAICA'S ECONOMIC quagmire today serves as a reminder to us and the rest of the world of what can happen when leaders fail to plan and, by extension, fail to be visionary.

Take Jamaica's economy, for instance, where large portions are driven underground with ease, thus having a life of its own, outside of our banks, tax administration and regulation. We all are familiar with, or have seen, known or heard of someone who vends illegally.

Why waste precious police resources, without much gain, on wild excursions for vendors' goods? As soon as the law enforcers pass, you can see persons reassembling their 'self-designated' areas with goods, and customers returning.

I suggest the Government take on a pilot project in which such an activity is made legal (easier) with a valid, workable contract under certain conditions:

1 Anyone who becomes a long-term vendor must register with the Tax Administration of Jamaica and pay an affordable flat rate, or a rate based on income, or a combination.

2 Get the commercial banks involved, and make basic accounts available without the usual nickel and diming. Allow vendors to have accounts at cheap maintenance via their mobile devices, providing mobile credit and debit processing card-reader technology. Soft loans or grants should be made available to rent or purchase such devices.

Our phone companies and banks may already have the requisite technology and expertise to make such a system exist and work. Citizens may also have an interest in self-enlightenment where co-operatives are concerned.

3 Allow for strategically placed vending zones which are kept, monitored and secured by a limited contingency of our security forces. Designate sections of sidewalks were possible, on different days of the week, when necessary.

Customers who enter such a premises or do business with such vendors can purchase reusable/prepaid debit cards cheaply. This opens the door to more flexibility between buyer and seller.

We may never be able to stop the use of cash, however, we MUST utilise a carrot-and-stick approach to such folks who will in time need benefits from the state —taxes must be paid!

4 Ensure there are clear rules and consequences. All laws, regulation or guidelines should be made clear for participants via a public education campaign. Participants should be enticed with potential incentives to become regular taxpayers if they are not. Any vendor or individual who willingly violates such a contract must feel the consequence through strict enforcement.

These suggestions should not be seen as a permanent fix but, instead, as a temporary opportunity for folks to play their part in advancing Jamaica for economic gains - IMF or no IMF.

V.H. M.

Baltimore, USA