BUSA JEREMIAH WENOGO
PORT MORESBY - The informal economy in Port Moresby is once again under siege. The National Capital District Commission (NCDC) is about to introduce another ban.
This time the ban will target street sellers of cooked food and betel nut (buai) and will come into force on 22 or 23 March.
The last time NCDC introduced a ban was the controversial buai ban that caused great disruption and even deaths and was eventually replaced by a partial prohibition after the ban turned into a game of cat and mouse as buai smuggling became a new phenomenon.
The stories of abuse, harassment and death that unfolded at the height of the ban remain fresh in the minds of city residents.
Defiant betel nut vendors buoyed by the prospect of huge gains colluded with law enforcers to smuggle large quantities of buai into the city.
While the ban did result in a dramatic fall in the supply of betel nut, the buai price went to the roof, causing a frenzy as producers, middlemen, transporters and retailers did everything under the sun to cash in.
Even law enforcers were in on the game. Police barracks were awash with betel nut and families of police officers set up stalls to sell buai that had been smuggled and confiscated. Instead of addressing the problem the ban turned betel nut smuggling into a lucrative industry.
The winners were the law breakers. The big losers were the street sellers who lost their incomes and, eventually, tax payers and financial institutions that had to write off loans as the ban forced many people into default.
The adverse effects on families’ livelihoods and children’s’ well-being proved disastrous and a more sensible solution through regulation had to be engaged and the ‘partial ban’ was introduced.
The spaces currently available within established markets like Gordons and East Boroko are not sufficient to cater for all vendors. That’s why they take to the streets.
To make matters worse, most street and roadside markets that would have eased the pressure of over-crowding have been removed and Gordons Market is still under renovation.
In light of this, it is very concerning to note that the Commission is planning to implement a ban on street selling of cooked food and betel nut. Most of the cooked food comprises garden foodstuff sourced from local farmers and egg products procured from supermarkets.
These products require minimal technology and skills and operate to support the majority of the city’s unemployed and less-skilled people. A closer look reveals that most of the participants are women who are seeking a way of generating additional income to support their families.
The ban may be a convenient tool for the NCDC and other urban authorities to satisfy their objectives but it is unlikely to yield any tangible, lasting and beneficial outcome.
Indeed, it can be seen as a lazy way of addressing a problem that needs much more thought and understanding.
After the disaster of the buai ban, NCDC should be well enough informed not to go down that track again.
Why they have done so is really beyond comprehension.