THE NEWS that a woman vendor in Port Moresby was physically abused by police officers - who can only be described as criminals - has once again brought to light the harsh reality of making ends meet in the Port Moresby’s informal economy.
In recent times, the stories of police brutality against innocent vendors doing their best to feed their family have become notorious.
The irony of this latest account of police brutality against this unfortunate woman is that it coincided with a police conference held in Kimbe, West New Britain.
At the conference, the police commissioner expressed concern that police behaviour was getting out of hand and that the force needed to undergo drastic transformation to bring back discipline and regain public confidence, both of which are at an all time low.
Throughout Port Moresby, countless of men, women and youths engaged in the informal economy are being subjected to all manner of police intimidation and abuse.
What gets reported in the news is only the tip of the iceberg. While the sale of goods such as alcohol, betel nut, cigarettes and store goods warrants some level of scrutiny from the police and the health inspectors, a large part of the informal economy is in agriculture, cooked food, artisan, textiles and garments.
These are area where the majority of vendors are women, mostly mothers, whose chances of committing crimes is negligible. Unfortunately, with the imposition of the betel nut ban in Port Moresby, the entire informal economy has suffered a great deal.
While most people would say that informal vendors do harbour criminal elements, we tend to lose sight of the fact that most informal vendors reluctantly comply for their own security. This is where a constant police presence is crucial in places such as markets.
Police do not have the right to exercise force to deter people from informal economy activities to sustain their lives. So long as those activities do not infringe the Summary Offences Act, the vendors should not be subject to intimidation, coercion or have their goods confiscated.
Engaging in the informal economy is not illegal. Few people operating in the informal economy are criminals. People venture into the informal economy because their situation or the business environment is not conducive to them operating formally.
Survival is usually the key underlying reason why most PNG micro-enterprises operate informally. The benefits derived from selling goods and services in the informal economy are usually channelled back into the household to provide school fees, food and other necessities.
Unfortunately in Port Moresby, which is the epicentre of PNG’s modernity, the informal economy is seen as a backward and filth ridden sector occupied by thugs and criminals.
This is where police brutality can easily go unnoticed by a public which sees action against the informal economy as justified.
And in PNG and Port Moresby, an estimated 85% of the population is engaged in the informal economy.
The top brass of the police should note that the failure of municipal, town and urban authorities in recruiting inspectors to enforce the informal economy is partly the reason why police are asked to step in to deal with problems.
There is a need for a concerted effort between urban authorities and police to work together. Inspectors should enforce standards to safeguard the interest of consumers while the police ensure criminal elements are eliminated.
But right now the police are not doing anyone any favours by playing the tough guy, especially to the wrong audience.
Busa Wenogo is an award-winning writer and an economist working with the Consultative Implementation & Monitoring Council as a senior project officer specialising in the area of informal economy