By Guest Writer
There appears to be a systematic crackdown on one of PNG's most economically and socially integral trades, buai.
This blogger reported Assistant Police Commissioner Francis Tokura issued an order last week, May 9, for policemen to remove all vendors from the streets of Port Moresby.
The deep disrespect for the rights of PNG's self-employed was revealed by the heavy-handed, abusive behaviour of the police as they broke up buai markets.
We do NOT commend Asst-Commr Tokura for his "efforts to clean up Port Moresby". If we want to clean up POM, don't look at the buai traders but at the government. PNG street traders are scapegoats of a corrupt system.
Think about it. The litter issue arises through inefficient public administration - isn't the government paying someone for garbage disposal? And if markets are a magnet for crime, it is because too many of our youths are let down by a system that is profit rather than people driven.
The buai sellers and their colleagues in our markets are entrepreneurs, not criminals. If you are making up to K500 a day, you're unlikely to go out and steal handbags afterwards. So why are we treating them as criminals?
The 'informal' economy appears to be expanding, as more Papua New Guineans shake the delusion that being a buai trader is socially unacceptable. Recent research found urban Papua New Guineans are quitting their 9-5 jobs as they realise the buai trade offers more lucrative prospects and better social security than the so-called 'formal' economy.
As it expands, the market infrastructure struggles to accommodate its growth, resulting in more litter and overcrowded markets (as we examined in this post last week).
But oppressing and removing markets is not the answer, because the informal economy is really the People's Economy, and in light of the absence an even slightly superior alternative, it will continue to grow and thrive. It is also, unlike the formal economy's extractive-obsessed sector, economically and socially sustainable. We know the profits made from using our natural resources stay in our communities. Forget the hype about the LNG-driven 'economic boom': the People's Economy offers PNG (and the Pacific) a sustainable future (just as it has sustained our peoples for 50,000 years).
The government and police, and all of us, need to change their attitudes to street markets from one of disdain to support. Only with adequate support for our nation's most vital traders will the social debris be cleaned up.
For one example, look at this example in Durban, South Africa. Durban's government provides funding, training and other support for its 'informal' traders. The result is one of the most successful duel economic and tourism ventures in the country.
Change your attitude. Stop looking at buai traders as a problem. They are, in reality, one of the few positive examples in a city and country where corporate greed in the formal economy - the driver for our government and therefore our police - really is turning our streets into ghettoes.