Mekelle City Administration has banned small businesses outdoor customer service
for coffee shops, juice bars, restaurants, pubs, clubs and hotels
Mekelle City Admin Has a Duty to Change Its anti Business and Employment Regulation
Tigrai Online, April 25, 2018
The Mekelle City Admin has been coming hard on small businesses in the city by banning outdoor customer service for coffee shops, juice bars, restaurants, pubs, clubs and hotels.
As a lot was already said on this topic in social media and following small business owners’ apparent submission of a petition to concerned govt. office, there has been cautious optimism that the city admin. may have cancelled or, at least postponed, its plan. Unfortunately that is not the case, and the city administrators’ rigid, now or never stance is utterly inconceivable.
Several arguments have been made in favor of leaving the small businesses alone, but the most important of all is timing.
City officials, bureaucrats, paper-pushers and law enforcers may not feel the pinch as their salary, benefits and per diems (perhaps to even sit in a meeting that came up with the decision in question) keep rolling. Yet, in case they haven’t noticed, Mekelle residents and people of the region at large find themselves in economic hardship, if not in full-fledged recession. And there is no indication that things will turn around anytime soon.
So, how heartless, irresponsible and arrogant could city administrators be to come up with such a policy that sees things from one-side only, while ignoring the fact that the new city regulation could subject business closures; kill employment; cause significant loses in rent income as well as tax revenue and ultimately may compel young people to take illegal and risky migration routes to flee unemployment and poverty.
Truth is, if it’s a must for officials to take such an action, they should’ve done it during good economic times. Failing that, waiting for economic recovery to safely implement the regulation should be the right thing to do. Or, at a bare minimum, small business owners and employees they hire ought to be given adequate time – with at least a full year’s notice – so that they would be able to look for alternative business or employment options, if any, or for them to figure out other survival methods.
Unfortunately, it appears that city administrators do not comprehend economics 101 and, worse, they don’t seem to care how policy and regulations affect ordinary people. Then again, why should they when there is no open and genuine election for voters to reward or punish their city representatives at the polls come election time.
Oddly, while the Mekelle City Admin is being tough on small, struggling businesses, it’s the most recklessly lenient entity when it comes to big businesses that refuse to play by the rules. To use just one example among many, the Moha Soft Drinks Industry (Pepsi) that is owned by Sheik Al Amoudi irresponsibly releases industrial liquid waste from its location at Arid; through the main street and front and back yards of residential as well as business buildings down the stream around Dr. Fetsum’s Eye Clinic and beyond (via the underground section of the clinic).
Adding insult to injury, the mainstream media and the single opposition in the region – Arena Party – that ought to be the people’s voice are both missing in action. The former serving as nothing more than the ruling party’s mouthpiece, and the latter being extremely busy in “national”/federal politics at the expense of bread and butter issues affecting the city and the region at large.
As a result, small business owners in Mekelle find themselves between the proverbial rock and hard place as no one has come to their rescue.
It’s worth asking, why did city admin officials come up with this regulation in the first place or, more importantly, why are they refusing to hear the voices of primary stakeholders? Fact is, while they should be in a position to answer this, the following informed assumption could be made:
- Concern about health and sanitation of the city and its people
This certainly is a valid concern, but there are several health and sanitation issues – such as open ditches, poor drainage system and environmental pollutants – for the city to tackle before jumping into something with lesser impact on health, yet with severe adverse effects on business and employment.
- Traffic movement and safety
This too is a valid concern, but – as pointed out once before – several locations in Mekelle, particularly 16 Kebelle – can easily be made into one-way streets for cars and three-wheeled vehicles known as bajaj to move freely and be parked responsibly in one (right) side of the street only, thereby enhance pedestrian and vehicle safety.
- Concern for young people
City administrators – as well as some residents – may very well be worried that recreational places are becoming a bad influence for young people. Nonetheless, an equally credible argument could be made that it’s better if the young people are in the open – playing pool, having coffee and even drinking beer – than chewing khat, smoking shisha or joint in secluded places.
- Fighting prostitution
There are some who try to associate outdoors recreation with prostitution. However, besides the fact that there is no a direct link between the two, the city administration’s concern, if anything, should be the growing street prostitution that has become rampant in particular at 14 and 15 kebele dark alleys where girls and women stand waiting for their johns to pick them up.
- Crime prevention
While there always are unwanted incidents in places where alcohol is consumed, the attempt to link a crime with outdoor customer services is grossly exaggerated. Fact is, petty and serious crimes such as mugging and break-and-enter are worse in the suburbs or in places such as ሳልሳይ ዓለም (third world), which has won notoriety for gang fighting and violence, yet government and law enforcement have done nothing.
To sum up, while some parts of Mekelle indeed beg for drastic change, the way to do it is not by decree, but rather through urban development, which is known for turning inner-city into an economic haven. But this certainly is not the time. Currently, several construction projects are on a standstill due to price inflation on building materials. Buildings that are complete on the other hand are unable to find tenants to rent their facility above second or third floors.
Thus, as the Mekelle City Admin is unable or unwilling to keep an open mind on this, the Regional Govt. of Tigrai led by Dr. Debretsion – that has been talking about administrative reform, good governance and the need to consult and listen to people’s concerns up close – should intervene to resolve this problem by finding an immediate and long-term solution so that small business owners, employees, renters and their families would not be condemned to socioeconomic hardship, and lest they become additional statistics on the number of people living beyond poverty level.
For that to happen, it may be a good idea for all stakeholders – i.e. small business owners and their employees that are going to be the primary victims of the new regulation, citizens and the media – to express their concerns to the Regional Government, and the Office of the Vice / Acting President.