Street vendors break rules, face music

The street vendors conduct business in their own style and are popular for some obvious reasons: direct interaction with the customers and discounted prices. But a few traders raise questions on their integrity. In capital Muscat, Seeb Market, Ruwi Shopping District, Hamriya and Muttrah Market were once known for street vendors who virtually offered everything, including vegetables or cooked snacks or barbecues. These days, the Muscat Municipality has been cracking down on them for violations related to the use of public facilities and misuse of parks and beaches.
A Muscat Municipality official said people should also cooperate with the authorities by not encouraging their business.“Public should go to vendors who are licensed by the municipality.”
The municipality issued a decision last year, which said: “Street vendors or mobile cafés shall not operate unless they have obtained municipal licence in accordance with the provisions of regulations laid out by the municipality.
Mobile cafés’ activities can be carried out in public locations such as beaches, holiday sites, public venues, parks after obtaining necessary approvals from the concerned authorities.”
For Bino Mathew, a marketing executive and a frequent visitor to Ruwi, “Negotiating with the street vendors is an art because the price of an item can be nearly halved through negotiations.
On the flip side, we just do not know the base price or its quality.”
He added, “I remember the days when pirated movie CDs were openly sold despite the crackdown by the enforcement authorities.”
The roadside barbecue and kebab and ice-cream stalls are popular with motorists and beach-goers.“We can have good barbecue or flavoured ice-cream at a neighbourhood store, but having it after a long drive in a quiet place gives a different feeling,” said Salem al Balushi, a resident of Qurayyat.
He said the interior areas of Al Amerat are popular for barbecues sold by Omani street vendors with support from expat labourers.“But there is a quality control issue and I would not suggest open food to my family members, especially children.”
But Abdulaziz, a taxi operator from Qurayyat, has a different take.“I feel a majority of the street vendors will not act in a manner that will affect their business.
I am sure they would not mind getting registered or subjecting their businesses to periodic inspections.”
Ahmed, a barbecue trader in Qurum, said he follows the rules laid by the government.“There are people who come from outside the city and who spoil business and reputation here.”
In 2016, the government issued a decision that said only Omanis could engage in street business, including selling of fresh fruits, vegetables and dates, silver works and gifts, perfumes and cosmetics, toilet soap and frankincense, textile and garments, pottery and handicrafts, honey, beverages, popcorn, repair, denting and painting of vehicles, sales of gas, installation and repair or electrical works and alarm systems, copying and printing of documents, organising of tours and setting up meat grill (barbecue) outlets.
Vendors also need to register their vehicles and other equipment required for the business.

Vinod Nair