It has been said that necessity is the mother of invention. Some ten years ago, the late Arthur Gilchrist, then Mayor of Montego Bay and Chairman of the St. James Parish Council (now Municipal Corporation), responded to the urgent need of finding commercial space for the marginalized and dispossessed citizens who sought to conduct vending in the streets of the western city in an illegal manner.
Some 400 vendors were relocated from the Shoe Market and Harbour Street Arcade by order of the parish council on lands belonging to the Jamaica Railway Corporation. Thus was born the People’s Arcade. This move was also done to facilitate the South Gully (Creek) drainage improvement project. Prior to this development, there was constant tug-o-war between the vendors and the authorities, as many of them oftentimes take to the streets to peddle their wares.
Today, the perennial problem of illegal street vending continues to rear its ugly head, and there is yet to emerge any meaningful and sustainable solution to this vexing problem. Mayor Gilchrist’s bold initiative has been, to date, the most positive approach, however, it has suffered from poor forward planning and the willingness of our city fathers to genuinely seek to empower these persons at the lower rung of the socio-economic ladder.
As a result of this ambivalence and partisan wrangling, the facility has been plagued with many problems including criminality, lack of an effective marketing plan, as well as security of tenure. According to a major stakeholder, “The Jamaica Railway Corporation has held up this vital project for 18 years, thereby suffocating the main economic engine of Montego Bay, which happens to be Small Business Enterprise.”
Last Friday, JRC Chairman, Feris Zaidie, gave the shop operators an ultimatum to register now or go, while assuring them that the plan was to improve the facility in a bid to streamline its operations. However, there is a fear that ultimately, there is a plot to wrest the shops from them and sell the property to a certain investor who has other plans for the area. It is against this background that there is a call for the shop owners/operators to be sufficiently recompensed for the monies expended to construct and equip concrete structures.
Any move to expel the shop owners without any compensation would be a wicked and unconscionable act that should not be condoned by the powers that be. It cannot be that the poor and dispossessed in the society are to be ignored in their quest for economic independence,s while a small percentage of the privileged and moneyed class capture and retain the commanding heights of the society for themselves, their heirs and successors.