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Opinions of Friday, 21 August 2009

Columnist: Amegashie, Felix Mawulolo

Hawkers Vrs The State, Who Loses?

It has been a few weeks into the Dr. Vanderpujie-led decongestion exercise in the city of Accra and it appears there is a determined move on the part of the affected Hawkers to return to the streets damning all legal and social consequences in the full glare of guards of the Accra Metropolitan Authority. I am thwarted in the lack of support on the side of civil society and the media to make this all important exercise achieve its objectives. I recall that many journalists (including JOY FM’s Ato Kwamena Dadzie) and social commentators actually shot the exercise down even before it took off and therefore created the psychological milieu for the failure of the decongestion exercise and at the same time giving signals to the affected hawkers that they could return to do brisk business as usual.

Indeed recent observations concur that the hawkers are almost back again to which the media is having a good laugh at the supposed failure of government to clear the streets of the daily nuisance of hawking. This recent development could be blamed on obvious factors including the absence of support from political parties and other civil society organizations. The decongestion exercise by all standards was the right decision the AMA took, not only to clear the streets and pavement of hawkers but to enforce security and cleanliness on our streets. The media was very cold and pessimistic towards this exercise. I recall the mockery the AMA Mayor attracted from pessimistic media practitioners like Joy FM’s Ato Kwamena Dadzie who actually called the exercise a failed one even before it began. He did not only stop at this comment but went ahead to publish disparaging articles on his blog and the Daily Dispatch and on www.myjoyonline.com that only sought to enforce the impression that no powers could clear the hawkers off our street irrespective of which government comes into power. I consider these irresponsible comments from Ato and others of his ilk not only as damaging to the development of our cities but a subtle call on the hawkers to lurk in the woods for a while only to return to the streets when the dust settles.

Second, for obvious reasons, the opposing parties decided to stay away from this initiative knowing too well that it makes good political capital to hold their peace while the ruling government proceeds with this exercise in order to attract disdain for the government of the day. In clear departure from this course, the political parties repeatedly asked government to put a “human face” to the decongestion exercise.

Third, the hawkers themselves, knowing too well that the streets and pavement are not places designated for them to ply their trade blame government of being insensitive. They argue that they had “nowhere to go” if they are driven off the streets. I wonder if this assertion is true. Just take a walk into the Central Business District of Accra at about 8PM each night and you will be amazed as to the serenity on the streets only for the chaos to resurface early the next morning.

Fourth, the argument that the hawkers took loans from banks and micro finance institution to ply their trade and that they may not be able to redeem their loan obligations unless they are permitted to sell on our streets and pavements is a bogus one. I am under the impression that banks do not give out loans just at the snap of the finger unless they are sure of your intentions and a traceable business address? I wonder which financial institution would offer loans to persons faceless individuals who cannot be located in a permanent office, home or shop.

In spite of the arguments above, the AMA has been at the centre of legitimizing the perpetual stay of the hawkers on the street by forcing them to pay all manner of levies and tolls to the Assembly. The hawkers therefore consider any decongestion exercise by the Metropolitan authorities absurd. One cannot fault the hawkers in anyway but to blame the AMA for granting the hawkers such chimney rights. I believe all is not lost as regards the options available to the Metropolitan authorities.

In as much as the current regime where guards are placed at vantage points in the capital to drive the hawkers away might be expensive and stressful, it appears this might be the most effective short terme measure aimed at arresting the situation while the AMA takes steps to open more satellite and pedestrian markets for the Hawkers to move into. This could be significant as it gives respite to shop owners who pay hefty rents to property owners in the city centers only for their front showcases clouded by a swam of aggressive hawkers who make no overhead expenditure or pay taxes to the republic.

Again, the perpetual absence of hawkers from the streets will ensure cleanliness and significant reduction of garbage on the streets. The reduction of garbage means the AMA will have to cut back on their annual budget allocated for garbage collection. This savings could be ploughed back into other social interventions like developing better rest points and toilet and urinal facilities in the metropolis. The streets could be very clean and the stench that emanates from the choked gutters as a result of wanton dumping of refuse and other fecal matter by hawkers especially could be eliminated. The ripples of a successful decongestion exercise could even lead to supporting government’s efforts at eradicating malaria.

Additionally, our streets could be more secured against crime and mob injustice. As it stands now, anyone could be attacked, criminalized and lynched in a very overcrowded environment like what pertains on our streets. A better security means that it will take less time for commuters to move about the capital city during the rush hour. This has significant implications on economic growth in the long run.

Constant education is indeed needed to buttress the actions of the AMA and at the helm of this education is the media especially the local-language-biased electronic media. They need to preach this message of change to the hawkers and encourage them to move to the designated pedestrian shopping malls specially created under the erstwhile Agyire Blankson administration. At the heart of this campaign should be the elimination of bottlenecks and corruption in the allocation of the stalls in the malls. If these things are done in all earnest and openness, I am sure that the average hawker will be lead to share in the concerns of the AMA in making this decongestion exercise a successful one.

To Dr. Alfred Vanderpuije, all is not lost as his outfit can persist in making this all important exercise a central part in improving standards and quality of life in the capital. The success of this initiative will send meritorious ripples in increasing gross domestic product of the nation; from our workplaces to our homes, from hospitals to entertainment centers , from markets to churches and Ghana ,indeed, can be a better place for our generation and others unborn.

Felix Mawulolo Amegashie Lix_mawulolo@yahoo.com