The last market for straw vendors
Nassau, The Bahamas
The House of Assembly is debating rules to govern the new straw market at Bay Street. The market is a gift of sorts to vendors from the government of The Bahamas. A visitor to The Bahamas might wonder why a government would build a multi-million dollar commercial space for independent business people in a commercial district.
Well, our political parties regard vendors collectively as a ‘special case’.
The parties think they must ensure that regular black merchants have a space on the main part of Bay Street, a district historically controlled by white merchants.
There is consensus on this point by the governing Free National Movement (FNM) and the opposition Progressive Liberal Party (PLP).
The PLP planned, as it is good at doing, a market between 2002 and 2007. It built no market, however. The FNM, which has been in office from 2007, has built a market. It will open soon. The old market was destroyed by fire in 2001 and vendors have been in ‘temporary’ accommodations since.
At this stage, we are past the relevant point of debating whether the government should have spent more than 10 million dollars on this market. What we must consider is if such a practice should continue in the future and if vendors should graduate from state grace and welfare and become independent.
When governments offer subsidies to local industries, the objective should be to help Bahamian businesses start and build capital bases from which they can operate independently. The subsidies should not last forever. The subsidies cannot last forever because the state has many responsibilities, some of which become urgent abruptly.
For example, there are currently intertwined crises affecting The Bahamas – crime and education.
The government of The Bahamas needs to place as much of its focus as possible on these issues. Coddling long-pampered merchants should become less of a priority during these times. Business people take risks.
The state can help and set policies assisting entrepreneurs. The state, however, should not take care of business people forever.
The Bahamas has changed since the government became the patron of straw vendors decades ago. Majority rule and independence have come about and opportunity in The Bahamas is more equally distributed now than it was in the earlier parts of the 20th century. There is now no bogeyman keeping anyone down.
The government should let vendors know that this is the last market the people of The Bahamas will build for them. Going forward, vendors and their association need to start thinking of ways to be autonomous.
If they want to operate as a collective, more of the revenue taken in by these merchants would need to be set aside to create an empowered association.
Such a body, run by vendors, would then have the resources to purchase the market and administer the affairs of vendors. The government could then get back to its role as regulator.
Our major political parties should push to graduate vendors from state welfare.
In doing so, they will become better business people and the Public Treasury will be less burdened.
Oct 11, 2011