Time to end war on city's vendors
The Bangkok Metropolitan Administration (BMA) has reaffirmed its tough stance on sweeping vendors off city pavements by Dec 31, denying previous media reports it would allow vendors back but with certain restrictions. Such a harsh policy will see the capital in tumult.
BMA spokesman Pongsakorn Kwanmuang, who is also the son of Bangkok governor Pol Gen Aswin, said the agency had no plan to soften its stance. Such reports, he said, are "disinformation that will cause misunderstanding". His statement appeared on the BMA's public relations webpage.
The spokesman referred to a Facebook post by senator Sungsidh Piriyarangsan, chairman of the government-appointed panel on tackling poverty and disparities. In his post, the well-known economist and senator said the panel on Dec 4 had a discussion with the BMA officials led by governor Aswin who "promised to gradually allow vendors who were removed from locations where trade was permitted only temporarily, to resume their trade under certain regulations".
However, according to Capt Pongsakorn, the agency will abide by the stiff policy put in place by Pol Gen Aswin who was handpicked by the military regime to replace MR Sukhumbhand Paribatra as Bangkok governor in October 2016.
Public space and footpaths must be preserved for pedestrians, both able-bodied and those in wheelchairs; people from all walks of life, the spokesman said. He failed to mention the "promises" made by Pol Gen Aswin and his team at the Dec 4 meeting with the Sungsidh panel.
The BMA under the retired-police-officer-turned-city-governor has banned footpath trading and food vending, including at Pak Klong Talad flower market, a tourist attraction, in Phra Nakhon district, despite public outcry.
Only when foreign media praise the city's street food does the BMA suspend the action on certain spots like Chinatown, which this month will become one of the three pedestrian-only zones at certain times, or Silom and Khao San roads, to boost tourism and keep the local economy alive.
Thai street food has been named among the 10 most popular foods for 10 consecutive years in a survey by the World Tourism Organisation. CNN, meanwhile, dubbed Bangkok as the world's street food capital in 2016 and 2017.
By reintroducing walking streets in three zones, the BMA wants to please tourists. That is the wrong priority.
It is hypocritical for the BMA to say it wants to boost the local economy while carrying out a policy that results in the opposite. The Dec 31 deadline will deal a heavy blow to street vendors. Temporary permission to trade at more than 900 locations is to be cancelled, affecting more than 200,000 vendors.
While the city administration primarily blamed the vendors for untidiness, it fails to see the flaw on its part in not coming up with an efficient city plan that embraces this group of people, mostly those escaping poverty from rural areas due to shortcomings in the national development plan. Without law enforcement, their growth had become unwieldy but it's undeniable that they play a key role in serving people with lower and middle incomes.
The BMA should recognise their importance as a vibrant part of an informal economy closely connected to the national economy.
"For example, employees and civil servants in the formal economy have to rely on affordable meals offered by street vendors almost every day,'' said Mr Sungsidh, arguing that removing vendors from footpaths means those employees will have to buy expensive meals and hundreds of thousands of vendors will be put out of work, weakening the grassroots economy and the purchasing power of society as a whole.
The BMA should be aware of next year's gloomy economic outlook and that its blanket ban will only make things worse for a group of people who will now become a burden on the state.
More importantly, allowing street vendors to trade on public space does not necessarily mean a laissez-faire attitude.
As Senator Sungsidh pointed out, street trading should be regulated to ensure coexistence between the vendors and pedestrians and produce what he termed "a harmony of benefits" between the two groups.
Apart from space sharing, the state and the BMA must implement measures to ensure those operating street-food stalls comply with hygiene, orderliness and environmental standards.
However, it appears the BMA is still not willing to subscribe to this vision, as reflected by its spokesman's statement, causing unnecessary hardship to those responsible for a culturally important slice of city life.
It's time for the government to recognise the problem and step in to give the governor some well-needed direction.
Bangkok Post editorial column
These editorials represent Bangkok Post thoughts about current issues and situations.
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