While the police raid on Mr Koh Eng Khoon’s one-room rental flat on 29 April leaves some questions to be answered, Mr Koh himself is unperturbed, as he told The Independent (TISG).
The police action came after letters were sent to the Prime Minister and the Deputy Prime Minister, with hell notes attached, expressing disappointment with the upcoming closure of the Sungei Road flea market.
The letters had been signed off with Mr Koh’s name.
“Don’t forget the 200 people and supporters. We only ask for this place. That’s not much,” wrote the letter which was signed off by “Koh Eng Khoon (Friend)”.
The raid, which reportedly took place around midnight, caught Mr Koh by surprise. When asked by the police if he had sent the letters, Mr Koh denied having done so. He has also since made a police report about the use of his name.
“The police took photos, searched my things and opened my cupboards,” he told the media. “They asked if I knew how to write in English but I don’t. I didn’t even know about the existence of such a letter.”
Mr Koh, who heads the Association for the Recycling of Second Hand Goods, said he is “not at all” deterred by the incident.
“I am doing the right thing,” he told TISG. “I am speaking for the voices of 200 old people. Nobody would speak out if I am intimidated. As long as there is room for further negotiations, I would not call it quits.”
He said that the process of trying to engage the authorities has been a bitter and hopeless one for him. He is disappointed that during the planning process for Sungei Road, for example, the 200 vendors’ views were never sought. He has, to date, sent many letters to the authorities, including to PM Lee, the NEA and other ministers, only to be met with silence, he said.
Mr Koh, 76, along with some friends and supporters, has been campaigning for an alternative site from the government for the vendors to continue their trade. His effort so far, however, has been met with rejection from the authorities.
“The government is suggesting that we go through further education,” Mr Koh said. “How is that even possible for uneducated old people? I feel cheated by their proposed solutions. We have worked for employers enough. It’s time to work for our interests within our limited capability and resources.”
Mr Koh tells TISG that his Member of Parliament, Tin Pei Ling, had paid him a visit and offered him help with his necessities. Mr Koh said he declined the offer as he does not require such help.
The authorities, including the NEA and the Ministry of Social Development and Family, have also extended assistance to the stall owners in Sungei Road, including offering to help them obtain hawker stalls.
Out of those who play their trade at the flea market, however, only 5 have taken up hawker stalls, Mr Koh said.
He explained that setting up and running a hawker stall is not cheap, and that they would not be selling secondhand goods if they could afford the rents of hawker stalls.
The Sungei Road flea market, on the other hand, is a rent-free place to cater to the elderly who even have difficulty to finance their household utilities bills.
Supporters have taken to petition campaigns to try and change the fate of the flea market, but it is unlikely to move the authorities’ position on the matter.
As for the letters sent to the PM and the DPM, the police have arrested two persons suspected to be involved in the incident.
Some have questioned the police action against Mr Koh, and asked if it was appropriate for the authorities to raid his home and seize his handphone simply based, apparently, on a letter with his name on it.
The police visit, Mr Koh said, had startled his wife, who had been sleeping in the room.
Since there was apparently no evidence to link Mr Koh to the letters, could the police have instead requested that he went down to the police station the next day to help with investigations, instead of raiding his home at midnight?
Was there a need to pay him a visit so late in the night, especially considering that Mr Koh and his wife are both senior citizens?
Could anyone be put through the same situation if his or her name was used by others for nefarious purposes?
Mr Koh, when asked if he is upset that his name was used in such a way, said he is not.
“In a way, I am glad because it brought publicity to the issue we have been campaigning on,” he said. “Until this incident, not much publicity was given to our cause.”