The Association of the Recycling of Second Hand Goods and the Save Sungei Road Market Campaign jointly express our deepest disappointment with the parliamentary answers provided by the Senior Minister of State for the Environment and Water Resources, Dr Amy Khor on 3 July in response to the submitted petition asking for the relocation of Sungei Road Market. The Government have not addressed the issues, including financial destitution, faced by these elderly vendors as a result of their decision to close the market. Separately, we express our appreciation for NMP Kok Heng Leun for submitting the petition in the parliament. We also thank Ms. Denise Phua and Dr Lee Bee Wah for filing parliamentary questions on the issue.
It is apparent that the gaps between what the Government perceives and expressed as adequate, and what the vendors of the SRM really requested for, are poles apart. None of the “various assistance options” presented to vendors by NEA is practical or sustainable. Only 27 vendors out of 200 have taken up lock-up stalls at hawker centres like Golden Mile Food Centre and Chinatown Market because the majority are unable to afford the rent and the initial setup costs.
SRM vendors' main call is for a collective relocation of the market to preserve the unique branding and history of the Sungei Road Market. Dispersing them to hawker centres effectively causes the vendors to lose the ‘cluster effect’ of having many businesses from the same industry together in close proximity. Reasons for closure - disamenities and risk to public health - are best tackled by community engagement with the stakeholders involved. Such tensions, which are best captured in the Not My Backyard mentality, abound in urban and high density living. Banning one party is not the solution.
There are also some inconsistency and ambiguity with the figures cited in Parliament. Out of the “200 vendors” reportedly engaged by the Government, SMS Khor said “more than 60 are receiving some form of Government assistance”, while a vague “more than 80” indicated they do not require assistance after SRM ceases on July 11. This still leaves “70 or so” vendors who are assessing their options. Simple arithimetics dictates that adding the 3 category of vendors mentioned would exceed the reported 200 “engaged” vendors.
Members of the Save Sungei Road Campaign had in fact found in our survey with the vendors that not all of them were consulted or engaged successfully by the Government. There are vendors who only operate in the weekends who would have missed the NEA officers assigned to “engage”. The same goes for some vendors who operate from late afternoon.
This leaves SMS Khor's point about the “deep engagement” the Government is supposedly to have performed open to question. It is a fact that since 2013, the vendors as well as various individuals, architects, and groups have submitted letters and proposals to relevant agencies to consider relocating the market as a whole. These proposals have ranged from simple requests of relocation to integration of a flea market in future developments. None of these proposals have been considered and were only acknowledged by generic replies. No ranking officials have ever came in person to meet and dialogue with the representatives of the Association.
More disturbingly, SMS Khor in her answer to a supplementary question, referred to a man (“Tan Khoon Yuan”) who claims to be the vice-president of the Association of the Recycling of Second Hand Goods, as one of the vendors who has taken up a hawker stall. Mr. Koh, Chairman of the Association, verified that there is no such position as a Vice-President and he does not know any person by this name who is involved with the Association.
It is clear thus far that the officials and agencies involved are not accurately informed and appraised of the ground situation and sentiments of the vendors, many of whom are from the pioneer generation. The Government should respect the autonomy of these vendors to decide for themselves on what and how best they want to carry on their trade as a means of livelihood, social engagement and active aging.
Keeping an 80 year old heritage site alive for future generations is also an important aspects of building our national identity. Digitisation of the SRM as a documented memory by the National Heritage Board fails to create the lived experience of our last remaining living street culture.
We reiterate that NEA should have a face-to-face meeting with the vendors and other stakeholders of Sungei Road Market, so as to have a constructive discussion on the impact of the closure of SRM and prospects of relocating the Sungei Road Market. It is not too late.
Association For The Recycling of Second Hand Goods & Save Sungei Road Market Campaign