Activities of petty traders have now taken a new and audacious dimension against the effort to make Accra clean and beautiful – the broader picture is to get Accra to become the cleanest in Africa.
A thriving city needs a healthy economy. People need jobs and opportunities. People also need access to goods and services at affordable prices. But the recent boom of petty trading on the pavements, entrances, and parking lots of the ministries enclave (also referred to as ministries) is problematic.
This enclave hosts almost all government ministries, departments, and agencies.
Right from the offices of the Ministry of Education through the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to the Ministry of Roads and Transport - every inch of the pavements and the parking lots are gradually and rapidly turning into a mini-market.
The sale of drinks and foods, detergents, colorful fabrics, jewelry, reading glasses, bow ties are a common sight to any visitor to the ministries enclave.
The jostling, whistling, and name calling like “Massa, officer, obaa kokoo, director, honourable” etc from these petty traders to attract customers has turned these important office locations into another Odawna or pedestrian market. The gradual encroachment on every access route by these traders has gained a degree of tolerance from the local authority - Accra Metropolitan Assembly (AMA).
Office spaces are supposed to be serene to allow free movement of officials and visitors but the situation at the Ministries enclave and the reluctance of the AMA to enforce the law has only encouraged other traders to join in this illegal activity.
These petty traders justify the “capture” of these public spaces, saying they do not have an alternative means to make a living and feed themselves and their dependents. In as much as we cannot downplay the significant role the informal economy plays in the creation of livelihood opportunities and alleviating poverty as part of individual survival strategies, the by-laws must be enforced.
The Ministries enclave must have its tranquility and allowed to be what it is – an office space.
Can you for one-second pause and imagine seeing petty traders selling on the pavements leading to the Jubilee House? Or food vendors selling at the parking lot of Parliament House?
The AMA is looking on helplessly as important locations where government policy decisions are taken have been “hijacked” by petty traders. Section 79 of the 1993 Local Government Act (Act 462) permits local assemblies to make bye-laws permitting or prohibiting certain activities within their jurisdiction. Is the AMA in bed with these petty traders hence their inability to enforce the law that prohibits selling on pavements?
The existence of these petty traders elicits a passionate response in many. Some are vehemently opposed to their presence in this important public space. Others equally passionately argue that it is an essential safety net for the poor, preventing desperate poverty and not only that but their customers (mostly staff of the various ministries) and local economies benefit from their presence. But the critical question which must be asked and answered is, should every public space be taken over by petty traders all in the name of survival?
The day these petty traders would metamorphose into squatters, it might be too late for the authorities to take any action. If for any political reason these traders cannot be moved, then the AMA must place them in a regulated and monitored location within the ministries enclave with the appropriate infrastructure and services. As we strive to enhance our capacity to deal with the emerging challenges of urbanization, we must also allow the laws to work.