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Buai bans don’t work; so what will?

Under the 'partial ban' policy, betel nut was only allowed to be traded in designated areas, but experience showed this only made the problem worse. The winners were the law breakers

Buai ban


PORT MORESBY - Once again Port Moresby’s National Capital District Commission (NCDC) has embarked on a ban - this time targeting the sale of cooked foods in the city.

This is not the Commission’s first ban. In the last 10 years, there have been three other bans targeting the betel nut trade and the sale of cooked foods in the city.

The last ban on cooked food, put in place only last year, was quickly abandoned.

So what makes bans on betel nut and cooked food sales so ineffective (and unpopular).

In the case of betel nut, the ban forced the price of buai to go through the roof, which was a great incentive for smuggling it into the city.

In the case of cooked food, the ban drove the activity underground which make it difficult to regulate.

Economically the bans affected the ability of countless households to earn a little cash.

It is estimated that these activities employ 70-80% of the city’s economically active population.

It was also not a good time to be introducing a ban on the sale of cooked food. With the cost of living on the rise due to escalating inflation, many people were in search of cheap alternatives.

Poorly paid workers gathered around a cooking stand sizzling with sausages, potatoes, bananas and kaukau is a common sight in Port Moresby. A ban on cooked food would deprive these workers of economical meals.

The bans also represented politically unpopular policies that resulted in crime and widespread public outcry each time they were enforced.

At the height of the betel nut ban, there was widespread harassment, violence, abuse and deaths and NCDC quickly replaced the ban with what it termed a ‘partial ban’.

Under this policy, betel nut was only allowed to be traded in designated areas, but experience showed the ban only made the problem worse.

The winners were the law breakers while family livelihoods and children's education were adversely affected and this required a change in strategy.

One strategy is to deploy health inspectors to the streets of Port Moresby to ensure that the sale of cooked food and betel nut conforms to safety standards mandated by NCDC health regulations.

 The deployment of police and reservists to curb the sale of betel nut in the city is a start but its effectiveness is questioned when Port Moresby is still flush with buai.

More importantly the approach taken by these enforcers is confrontational and is not suited to the role of a trained inspector.

Perhaps a better strategy would entail combining enforcement and awareness and sustaining this over a period of time rather than resorting to bans.

In this way tangible outcomes can be achieved. But such a scenario can be achieved only if NCDC deploys trained inspectors.

Street vendors should be organised into formal groups so they can work with the government and banks to promote financial inclusion.

At the moment vendor operations are scattered making it difficult for the government to work with them.

It is clear that imposition of bans is not a solution but causes further problems. I argue that NCDC should avoid implementing bans and take an approach centered around sustained awareness and regulation.

NCDC should complement this effort by promoting the organisation of informal micro-entrepreneurs into vendors associations. Only then will a change in the current status quo take effect.


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Lindsay F Bond

"Street vendors should be organised"? How so?
Is Gavman to become entrepreneurial at enticing?

Maybe, pay 'street vendors' the money being lost in 'enforcement'?

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