The joint venture agreement (JVA) between Cebu City and Megawide is looking to be a marriage that, unless dissolved or renegotiated under just and fair conditions, will result in a loss of revenue for the City and untold suffering for the families of 4,000 or so unregistered ambulant vendors.
Megawide is a business enterprise with the mission of maximizing profits. Like any business, it either makes profits or dies. It either gives acceptable returns to investors or these will move to another business. Cebu City, on the other hand, is a government agency tasked with providing basic social services (roads, schools, markets, etc.) that enable citizens to live safe and happy progressive lives. Unlike business, it does not depend on profits. It simply collects more taxes to fund its services.
Moreover, unlike business that fires corporate officers who fail to deliver profits, government officials do not have to deliver services to keep their posts. Our extremely faulty election system allows incompetent and corrupt officials to cheat or buy their way into staying in office.
Public service and private profit are essentially incompatible. This was aptly demonstrated at the second hearing on the JVA-stipulated amendment to the City’s market code. Among other proposals, entrance fees, stall rentals and other fees are to be increased to levels that I presume are predicated on the profitability rate of Megawide. Collection is also to be given to a Megawide subsidiary in violation of laws that assign collection of local taxes to the treasurer’s office.
My presumption was proven right when Megawide’s spokesperson justified the steep increase in fees with the millions already invested in Carbon that it must recover. She had no direct answer to the vendors’ question whether they will have a stall in the new Carbon. She hedged by assuring those present at the hearing that Megawide is putting up 600 stalls for the 500 some registered vendors in MOD’s (Market Operations Division) list. How can ambulant vendors not worry when all 4,000 of them are unregistered?
Yet, while Megawide vigorously fights to recover its investment, the council majority was mum about defending ambulant vendors’ rights to their means of livelihood. Opposition councilors alone stood up for the latter and for buyers who fear the goods they source from Carbon will no longer be profitable for their small businesses outside.
Vendors have reasons to worry. Megawide has spent staggering millions to recover and make a handsome profit from. Yet, it is looking like only a bolt of lightning can kick the council majority into walking back on the JVA. We can only speculate why they act like they are caught between a rock and a hard place, why they are throwing their hands down and leaving the fate of helpless ambulant vendors to the vagaries of a profit-oriented business enterprise.
The third (final?) hearing should be interesting.