Sungei Rd: Lots of help – really?

Source: Terence Ong/CC BY-SA 3.0Source: Terence Ong/CC BY-SA 3.0

Help ongoing for Sungei Road vendors

I refer to the article “Help ongoing for soon-to-be displaced Sungei Road vendors” (Straits Times, May 12).

It states that “With less than two months to go before the flea market at Sungei Road closes, 44 of the 200 vendors have a clearer picture of how they might be moving on, having accepted assistance from various government agencies.

Among them, 23 vendors have submitted applications for hawker stalls with 20 allocated units at centres such as Chinatown Market, North Bridge Road Market and Food Centre and Upper Cross Street Market.

Three will be selling their goods at other flea markets occasionally.

15 get ComCare assistance: how much?

As to “Three are also being supported by Workforce Singapore (WSG) in their search for other jobs while the remaining 15 have been granted ComCare assistance, said the authorities who gave an update on Friday (May 12) on the fate of some of the vendors from Singapore’s last free hawking zone” – can we have more details such as how much financial assistance has been granted to the 15 vendors and for what duration?

Is it say about $200 a month for say about nine months?

Helping 3 to find jobs?

Since the closure was announced almost three months ago on 17 February – and the announcement said “The authorities said that Social Service Offices will facilitate financial assistance and Workforce Singapore will provide employment services under existing schemes to eligible vendors who may require such help” – have the three being supported by WSG found jobs already (since its three months already)?

Why take 2 months to start helping?

With regard to “Over four days in April, officers from the National Environment Agency (NEA), Ministry of Social and Family Development, WSG and the Central Singapore CDC fanned out in teams to engage vendors individually on their needs” – why did it take about two months from the announcement date that various assistance will be given – to start the process?

“In their joint-media release, officials said engagement was followed up with phone calls or home visits, with the vendors being receptive.”

In respect of “Ms Adeline Leong, director of NEA’s food and environmental hygiene department, said NEA set aside more than 30 hawker stalls specifically for Sungei Road vendors to apply for, “although hawker stalls are in high demand in Singapore and are at near full occupancy”.

Aside from these, vendors may also apply for other stalls that are available in NEA’s monthly tenders.

About 50 Sungei Road vendors had indicated interest in taking up lock up stalls at hawker centres.

NEA also identified seven flea markets close to the homes of about 20 Sungei Road vendors who have expressed interest in such stalls and are helping them to facilitate their take-up.

How many stalls taken up?

Ms Leong said: “We stand ready to help any Sungei Road Hawking Zone (SRHZ) user in getting a hawker stall or a flea market to continue their trade.”” – how many stalls have actually been taken up? Reading the above – it does not seem to say how many exactly there are? Could it be as little as just a few of them?

As to “The authorities also noted that about 70 vendors had indicated they did not require any assistance as they were able to support themselves or find other jobs. The authorities said they were reaching out to the remaining vendors and that help was ongoing for all.

NEA’s Ms Leong said: “We understand that there are some users who have the means to support themselves after the closure of SRHZ and do not require any assistance.

“Nonetheless, we will continue to keep in touch with them, and help them with the various assistance options should they wish to apply for them.”

Summarising the sentiment of some of his fellow vendors, Mr Koh Eng Khoon, chairman of the Association for the Recycling of Second Hand Goods at Sungei Road flea market who represents about 70 of them, said those who have accepted hawker stalls “have their doubts on how business will do” but are trying out these alternatives.

Update in 6 months?

The Housing Development Board will also be releasing five retail shops in June which vendors can bid for. It also has another 20 void-deck kiosks meant for use as mini-marts or convenience stores, and those who wish to change to these trades can bid for them over the next three months” – can we have an assurance that there will be a statistical update in say six months and also a year later?

Talk only, no statistics?

Arguably, we seem to be hearing a lot of talk about how we are trying to help, but seemingly very little as to exactly how many have been helped and exactly in what way or quantum?

“Despite these offers from agencies, some vendors are still holding out hope that a new site for the flea market can be found, despite repeated statements from the Government that this will not happen.”

In this connection, according to the article “Sungei Road vendors get keys to their new permanent stalls” (Straits Times. May 12) – “Mr Tang Kong Yuan, 89, has hawked his wares at the open-air Sungei Road flea market for 40 years. Within the next few weeks he will be doing so from his own stall in Chinatown Market.

The fit and sprightly senior received the keys on Thursday (May 11) to his new business premises, where he will be selling watches and jewellery.

As one of the original 11 permit holders of the Sungei Road market, he gets to rent the hawker stall at subsidised rates. His rent is $184 a month but it will be fully subsidised in the first year, and halved during his second year there. The 11 vendors are from a pool of 31 rag-and-bone men who, “because of their chosen trade”, were excluded from a government programme to resettle street hawkers in purpose-built markets and hawker centres in the 1970s and 1980s. All 11 have been given the option of renting stalls at selected hawker centres in the city area at subsidised rates.”

Only 11 out of 200 offered subsidised rental?

So, does it mean that only 11 of the 200 vendors are being offered subsidised rates to rent hawker stalls?

Most may be worse off?

With regard to “The monthly rent of his new stall is $400 and he had been making about $1,200 on average each month at Sungei Road, which was rent-free” – this may in a way be akin to putting the crux of the matter to the plight of the 200 elderly vendors – as no matter how nicely the alternatives that are being offered to them may sound in media reports – most if not all of them may end up worse off than before this draconian decision to disrupt their livelihood and their lives in general, and kill one of Singapore’s most valued heritage?

Leong Sze Hian

About the Author

Leong
Leong Sze Hian has served as president of 4 professional bodies, honorary consul of 2 countries, an alumnus of Harvard University, authored 4 books, quoted over 1500 times in the media , has been a radio talkshow host, a newspaper daily columnist, Wharton Fellow, SEACeM Fellow, columnist for theonlinecitizen and Malaysiakini, executive producer of Ilo Ilo (40 international awards), invited to speak more than 200 times in over 30 countries, CIFA advisory board member, founding advisor to the Financial Planning Associations of Indonesia and Brunei. He has 3 Masters, 2 Bachelors degrees and 13 professional  qualifications.