Flea Market - or Free Market?
Street vendors offer goods and services at competitive prices to the urban dwellers. As the government cannot allocate enough resources to formally oversee this sector, street vending represents a commercial system with little government intervention. It appears to operate in a free market economy. To assess the business environment of street vendors, the Friedrich Naumann Foundation for Freedom’s (FNF) Bangladesh office along with Chittagong University conducted a survey on street vending in the port city of Chittagong. The study was disseminated amongst high-level police officers, district-level government officers, politicians, NGO activists, academicians, students and the media.
Street vendors in urban areas are a common sight in any country of the world, and typically operate on public property. In Bangladesh they are considered to be an informal sector most of whom ignore registering with regulatory or tax authorities. However, they often fall prey to extortion and bribes from hoodlums, police and different local bodies. Nevertheless, they provide economic opportunities to the urban poor.
Dr. Ala Uddin, Associate Professor of Anthropology, presented his jointly written paper to describe the socio-economic contribution and governance related issues of this overlooked sector. The study highlights the personal background of the street vendors, the low profit level they earn, and the level of unofficial payments they have to make to stave off harassment to operate their business. Co-author Dr. Gazi Saleh Uddin suggested dialogue and a better understanding between the street vendors and the local level officials are needed to improve the business climate. He encouraged policy makers and think tanks to recognize this informal sector in Chittagong city’s plan and development.
The District Commissioner of Chittagong city Mesbah Uddin was the chief speaker at the seminar: he emphasized the need for better coordination amongst different branches of the local government to address the constraints street vendor experience. Lawmakers should discuss and advocate possible solutions, he said. FNF Bangladesh intends to support such a dialogue in Chittagong in the future.