$1-million reward for compliant vendors

MONTEGO BAY, St James — The St James Municipal Corporation is set to implement a reward-based system in order to boost the compliance of vendors who operate on the streets downtown in the western city.

On Thursday, during the corporation’s monthly council meeting, deputy mayor, Councillor Richard Vernon announced the new initiative that is expected to provide enough of an incentive to keep the vendors in line. It will get underway by the end of September.

“We aim to achieve high compliance, so we will be putting a reward system in place. Instead of looking at punishment, we are going to reward — and what we have done is to look at the best reward structure that is available and [that] we can facilitate as a local authority,” he told journalists at a briefing after the meeting.

This reward, he said, will come in the form of a business development grant to assist these business people, within the top zone, in further uplifting their enterprises, and it will be provided by the corporation.

“The area that is on top at the end of the year will be rewarded with $1 million in business improvement,” he said.

“We have been looking at how we can help these small business operators, or micro business operators, to improve their businesses — not just to leave it like that but to follow up to ensure that the business improvement grant is being used properly to enhance their business operation,” the deputy mayor added.

For years different initiatives, some which have come in the form of strong-arm tactics, have been implemented to keep the vendors in line with the directives of the corporation.

However, in most cases those results have proved to be unsatisfactory so far and therefore the corporation is trying something new.

“We have tried many ways to manage the vending situation across Montego Bay for many years. They work sometimes but it costs us a lot — in terms of resources — in terms of putting boots on the ground to get them to stay within the zones. Let us see if we can work better with them to improve their behaviour, their operation, and see what we can retrieve from that type of approach to vendors,” Vernon said.

The street vendors, who currently operate in a zone format, are expected to adhere to the rules in order to win the $1 million.

“You have to have proper garbage collection and management in your space, you stay off the areas that are out of bounds for vending, and you stay within your zone, you work within the space peacefully. There are a number of other things, and when we meet with them we will look at other areas,” Vernon said

The corporation plans to meet with the vendors to discuss the initiative, following which they will move to implementation.

Constant meeting with zone representatives will also be a feature going forward, the deputy mayor advised.

“The area will also be asked to appoint a zone leader, and we will meet with the zone leaders each quarter to discuss the issues that they’re having because vending is a part of our culture — we can’t deny that — so we have to see how best we can facilitate,” he stated.

Come the end of the year, if everything goes as planned, then the best-behaving zone will get the reward, he said, adding that the corporation will do its analysis on how to move forward with the initiative.

“The approach that we’re taking these days is to be very scientific about how we do things and to be very empirical about the results which we seek to generate from our intervention,” he explained.

“I will not say to you that it is a one-off thing. We’re going to put the system in place and then we are going to carry out an appraisal at the end of the year, because that is the time that we have given ourselves,” he divulged.

The results will determine if the initiative continues beyond the end of this year and if it will be expanded beyond downtown Montego Bay into other areas of the city.

“Once we have done that rapid appraisal or review of the system we will see if it has improved the situation, if there is behavioural change, if they feel more included in our plans — and once it is reaping good results we will make a decision to continue,” the deputy mayor said.

During a tour of several streets in downtown Montego Bay on Friday, vendors welcomed the move.

Patricia Edwards, who sells clothes on Market Street, said she is looking forward to a share of the $1-million reward.

“I would be glad if my zone win it. Yes man, that would a good,” she said with a broad smile.

Kirk Thompson, who vends close to Sam Sharpe Square, said, “Mi get goosebump when I hear how much money wi can win.”

He believes that the zone in which he falls has a good chance as the area is clean and the vendors are cooperative.