The Greater Amman Municipality’s (GAM) recent decision to clear street vendors from the capital’s major shopping districts was taken in response to public demands and to improve the city’s image, a GAM official said on Tuesday.
The proliferation of vendors has harmed the livelihoods of legitimate business owners and the interests of consumers, and presented an uncivilised image of the capital, Abdul Halim Kilani, the head of the capital's municipal committee, said at a press conference at GAM headquarters.
"These street vendors harmed not only the market, but also the public. Some of them sold drugs and rotten food," Kilani indicated.
"We received many complaints from both merchants and citizens, so we decided to react and send our teams to remove them.”
GAM started removing street vendors from the major commercial thoroughfares of Jabal Hussein and the city centre during the last week of Ramadan and intensified the campaign in the days following Eid Al Fitr.
Calling the problem a product of “hidden corruption”, Kilani said that before starting the campaign to remove the vendors, the municipality had replaced the teams responsible for this task after learning that some of them may have been involved in the business themselves, creating a conflict of interest.
"I do not want to accuse anyone, but I learned that some employees owned street carts,” he said, adding that the matter is now under investigation.
“When we are sure that the old employees do not own carts, we will bring them back."
Kilani said the municipality appreciated the fact that some people depend on selling goods from street stands to meet their basic needs and would give them the chance to vend their wares in other parts of the city.
"GAM has several public markets and we can let them promote their products there," the official added.
He also noted that GAM had established a specialised unit at its rapid response centre in Tlaa Al Ali to ensure that the street vendors do not return.
The effects of the crackdown were evident in downtown Amman on Tuesday, where the sidewalks of major arteries such as Prince Mohammad and King Talal streets were free of vendors.
Merchants there said their businesses were returning to normal after an abnormally slow Ramadan.
Abu Wahid, one of the oldest traders in Souk Mango, said many of these street vendors used to display the same goods as he and his fellow traders did, taking advantage of their much lower expenses to sell at lower prices than brick-and-mortar shops.
"The funny thing was that they even promoted their products outside our stores," the 73-year-old added. “None of us had the courage to talk to them because we received many threats.”
Abu Wahid said his revenues were down 70 per cent during Ramadan, blaming the decline on street vendors.
"Ramadan should have been peak season for us. This year it was not, because of them," he stressed.
Muwaffaq Bitar, another trader in the city centre, said that the vendors’ bad manners drove many customers away.
"They swore in public and they sometimes harassed women on the street. Most of my clients are women and they stopped coming to the city centre because of them. Downtown visitors decided to turn to west Amman instead," he told The Jordan Times.
Abu Wahid added that vendors used to cause disturbances, getting into fights and sometimes using weapons.
Towards the end of Ramadan, Bitar said, vendors also caused traffic jams and endangered pedestrians by blocking the sidewalks with their carts and stands.
"Pedestrians did not have enough room to walk on the pavement, so they walked in the streets.”
Abu Wahid, however, criticised the municipal authorities for not acting on this longstanding problem sooner.
"They took a long time to decide to take this important step," he said.
During Tuesday’s press conference, Kilani sought to assure traders and the public that the campaign to keep vendors out of these commercial districts would continue.
"We are not going to war, but we want to make sure that our beloved city is clean and safe for Jordanians and the capital's visitors," he said.