By Laura Zhang
Many vendors have not given up their fight to carry on their business at the Sungei Road Flea Market (Thieves’ Market or Robinson Petang), scheduled to be closed permanently on 10 July 2017. While most will choose to live with the developmental decision under the Master Plan, announced in February, there is an ongoing campaign to preserve the livelihoods and “dignity” of the 200 vendors.
Ms. Biddy Low, part of the team behind the ‘Save Sungei Road Market Campaign’, shared her insights on the initiatives during an interview with The Independent.SG.
Last Friday (June 16), it was reported that the National Environment Agency (NEA) will allocate 40 hawker stalls for 27 vendors from the market. They will also enjoy a 50 per cent rental rebate in the first two years.
In response to the NEA’s update, Ms. Low told us that “NEA has set aside 40 hawker stalls and says in the report that 27 vendors have been allocated stalls. However, there are over 200 vendors in Sungei Road.”
“Rental, deposit and starting fees together would typically cost $1000. Given half price rebate, it’s still not enough for the vendors who have been peddling their items rent-free in the sole surviving free-hawking zone in Singapore,” she added.
Not long ago, thousands of supporters, including the vendors, signed a banner petition displayed at the market. The movement was initiated by Mr. Koh Eng Khoon, who leads the Association for the Recycling of Second Hand Goods, as a plea for preserving the market. However, the petition had been largely ignored by the authorities and mainstream media.
“NEA did not respond at all. It’s been ignored,” says Ms. Low. This aligns with what Mr. Koh told us last month. We published last month that:
“He is disappointed that during the drafting 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.”
The campaign team, made up of tech savvy youths, academics well versed in heritage preservation and professional architects, then set about creating a parliamentary petition that garnered 937 signatures in 2 weeks. The parliamentary petition follows the petition guidelines set by the state and was successfully submitted in May. The fate of the market will be discussed in the next parliamentary seating in July.
“The Campaign’s objective is for the government to relocate the market to another centralized site, thus we feel it is a topic for discussion even after the date of closure. The physical space may be gone, but the difficulties faced by the vendors mentally and financially will only have just begun. This is not just an empty house we are trying to preserve, it is a living community of people.”
Having conducted frequent surveys and interviews with the vendors since February, the campaign team has come to the conclusion that the solutions offered by the government in the form of individual stalls with subsidized rent, skills training and financial aid are inadequate in resettling the vendors. The market can only stay attractive as a whole. Most of the vendors see no point in being dispersed to individual stalls which may explain the poor response to the offer so far. Many vendors also suffer from health issues that prevent them from working fixed hours, and given the choice, these hardy members of the Pioneer Generation would rather continue earning their keep through the market instead of surviving on government handouts. Many interviewed said that they will seek financial aid as a last resort and at the loss of their dignity.
The campaign team also conducts free weekly tours for the public on Saturdays to create awareness about the historical value of the market.
The campaign is currently finalizing a carefully crafted relocation proposal with alternative plans, to try and convince the government of the value and potential of the market.
Ms. Low urges people to be part of the action, as it is not too late to preserve the market. Members of the public can download a copy of a letter of concern from their facebook page, or draft their own polite plea to their MPs to speak up for the market in parliament, or even take up the preservation project.
“Sungei Road Market is a living, breathing testament to our shared history, an 80 year old place where generations of Singaporeans have memories of, there won’t be another place like it.”
Mr Koh talks to us about an exchange he had with an NEA officer who visited him to offer him help. And why it is no help at all.A free hawking zone is unique in that it provides a rent-free space for people from different strata of society to earn a living and be part of a community. As the president of the Association for the Recycling of Secondhand Goods, Mr Koh understands that renting a hawker stall is not an option for all if not most of the vendors at Sungei Road Market. And that there are emotional, cultural and historical voids that cannot be filled with promises of job training and financial aid.Relocation of the market as a whole, is the kind of help they need.Support our fight to keep the market open, send a letter to your MP to speak in favour of our petition to relocate the market today, https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B2SwoQeALfCJMDBmWWd4bmhGMEk/view
Posted by Save Sungei Road Market on Friday, 9 June 2017
Picture Credit: Nicholas Koh