L'Express (Port Louis)

15 October 2012

Mauritius: Marchands Ambulants or Clients Ambulants

opinion

Some visitors to this country, which is trumpeted to be a ' plaisir', may wonder why all the pavements of the capital city Port-Louis are taken over by the ' marchands ambulants'.

They will certainly ask their tourist guides about these traders, who are spread all over the capital and, most probably, the answer that they will be given will be that these traders are ' les marchands ambulants'. The tourists who are endowed with a degree of intelligence will immediately realize that there is nothing ambulatory about these ' marchands' and they will, in their desire not to offend, conclude that Mauritius is really a pleasure. But, the tourists will go away and Mauritius will still have the problem.

There are various ways of dealing with this. The best way is to criminalise any one who is ' ambulatory' and stops to buy things from the not- ambulants marchands. Or, at any rate, discourage the ambulatory folk, especially those public officers who invade the streets of Port- Louis during their lunch break from helping the trade. Or, the PRB may provide that all those public offi cers who have their lunch at their palce of work will be entitled to a special allowance and there will be CCTV to monitor them.

Another is by regulating the people who claim to be the ' marchands ambulants' and get them to really be ' ambulants'. Or, another way is to designate an area where they would carry on their trade without setting up day- permanent structures on the streets and pavements or by using parking spaces virtually on a permanent basis. The authorities must also monitor the sourcing of goods which are put on sale and the MRA must be able to tax these traders, just like it hunts everyone else.

Mauritius is not alone in facing this kind of problem. Singapore was another country which had to deal with its ubiquitous traders by constructing a special place to house all of them and Singaporean discipline ensured that the traders did what they were told to do. One should not overlook the fact that this ambulatory activity is the main source of livelihood for thousands of people. Putting an abrupt stop to that activity will create social problems and will exacerbate the unemployment situation. Unless all those who are trading on the streets are also registered as unemployed! A solution must be found before the numbers of such traders increase.

The phenomenon which afflicts us at this time of the year is that many civil servants and many in the parastatal sector convert themselves into street vendors during the Xmas and New Year season. In fact, a quick survey of the passengers leaving Mauritius for China at this period is illustrative of the fact that there is gold in street trading and the multiplier effect is astounding in December. Whatever one might say about the informal sector, one must bow down to the inventiveness of our people who know how a quick rupee can be made.

Unless the PRB provides manna for the civil servants, the latter will find nothing uncivil in engaging in street trading.

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