Private​ ​markets​ ​or​ ​public​ ​mayhem​​?


Monday, September 25, 2017

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An integral part of management is knowing when to let go. Kenny Rogers offers priceless management advice which he received from a stranger. Successive administrations have attempted to rectify the perennial problems within the market districts in the Kingston and St Andrew Municipal Corporation (KSAMC). However, as administrations change, the conditions seldom​ ​do.

If we are going to continue playing this proverbial game of thrones with the KSAMC, then we ought to learn how to play it right. The problem of finding a lasting solution is compounded by the fact that, in each of the last three local government elections, the council has been led by different administrations. This fosters the practice of several plans being pushed aside in the pursuit​ ​of​ ​personal​ ​priorities.

One sector which falls within the clasp of the municipality and has continually felt the pains of renewal is the management of markets. One is demolishing stalls, his successor is erecting stalls. One sets out to expand markets and raise fees, and his successor discontinues it. If the conversion rate is so high for administrations then maybe we ought to take some of the advice that​ ​Rogers​ ​was​ ​offered​ ​in​ ​his​ ​song.

The​ ​secret​ ​to​ ​surviving

Knowing when to hold them, when to fold them, when to walk away, and when to run is perhaps the lesson that Kingston needs now more than ever before. The secret to surviving is knowing what​ ​to​ ​throw​ ​away​ ​and​ ​what​ ​to​ ​keep.

In a Jamaica Observer article dated June 6, 2017, it is said that Councillor Vernon McLeod told his fellow councillors at the KSAMC in a Finance Committee meeting that the council needs to do something about the monthly market deficit of $5.5 million. This is $66 million per year and, on​ ​average​, ​$264​ ​million​ ​every​ ​four​ ​years.

I am unsure how much longer the KSAMC-run markets will be able to survive operating at this deficit. It would be foolish to suggest throwing away the markets in order to survive. We would be cutting our noses to suit our face or throwing out the cabbage with the cabbage water. There are, however, other alternatives: Knowing when to hold them, when to fold them, when to walk away,​ ​and​ ​when​ ​to​ ​run.

The city would be well served in exploring the options of folding its administration of the markets and allowing another player with better odds and a longer tenure of management to see it through. The lease option is worth the effort, especially if the city will be able to transform the almost​ ​$70​-​million​ ​annual​ ​deficit​ ​into​ ​a​ ​profit.

With the temporary divestment, undoubtedly there will be benefits to follow such as improved infrastructure and better use of the city's resources. There is also the notion that the elected officials will be able to make the hard decisions when they will not to be concerned about losing votes​ ​if​ ​markets​ ​are​ ​privatised.

The rehabilitation agreement also included closed-circuit systems for the markets, as well as improved restroom and storage facilities. For heaven's sake, it sounds like a good alternative. Bearing in mind that Manila City was operating the markets at a loss of approximately US$400 per year, put that into the equation and you wonder what are we waiting on.

Knight​ ​in​ ​shining​ ​armour

I have toyed with the thought of how practical would a privatisation of the markets be for all the players involved. I read through a few articles, and did research for several weeks, and there was sadly not much concrete documentation of the transformation from public to private markets with sufficient​ ​details​ ​on​ ​the​ ​impact​ ​it​ ​had.

It was during a day of browsing social media that I came across Joseph Estrada on Twitter. Estrada served as vice-president of the Philippines from 1992 to 1998, and as president from 1998 to 2001. What transpired in those years was, however, not the focus of my interest in Estrada. Rather, it is the fact that he currently serves as the mayor of the capital city of the Philippines​ ​and​ ​has​ ​been​ ​doing​ ​so​ ​since​ ​2013.

The city of Manila, under Estrada's leadership, entered a joint venture with a private company for the privatisation and rehabilitation of public markets in the city. Manila shares a lot of similarities with Kingston with regards to its old market structures. They were in a state of disrepair, vendors began to overflow the streets and it was slowly spreading throughout the city. There were concerns voiced by citizens and vendors alike in the city regarding the possible increase in market fees and the divestment of State property to the private sector. The Manila city councillors were able to communicate and later on effectuate measures to ensure that this would​ ​not​ ​be​ ​a​ ​problem.

The transformation took place and the city now boasts several world-class markets, which I will be visiting in short order. This will give me a better opportunity to learn from the city of Manila what they did to transform their markets, as well as to see if such a model would even be practical​ ​in​ ​Jamaica.

Weeks later it is as if fate was compelling me to dig deeper as I learned that the new British high commissioner to Jamaica, Asif Ahmad, is the former high commissioner to the Philippines. And, as fate would have it, he was stationed in Manila. I will be making a request to meet​ ​with​ ​the​ ​high commissioner​ ​to​ ​discuss​ ​his​ ​experience​ ​with​ ​the​ ​markets​ ​in​ ​Manila.

If the ace to transforming our markets has arrived in Jamaica then I hope that, as a city ,we can capitalise on it; not by asking for favours, but by showing our hands, by asking for information. This is knowing when to run. If this can turn around the current public mayhem that exists in the form of private markets then, as a city, we ought to run towards it. It may just be our ​ace​ ​in​ ​our​ ​deck.

Duane Smith is Jamaica Labour Party councillor for the Chancery Hall Division.




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