Permanent night markets not realistic way to help industry

We read with concern the Trade Fair Merchants' Association's suggestion to set up a permanent night market in Singapore ("Pasar malam theme park to save night markets?"; last Wednesday). The views of the association do not represent those of the majority of operators, stall owners and workers in the pasar malam industry.

Our group, the Federation of Trade Fair Merchants' Association, Singapore, has about 300 members, compared with the Trade Fair Merchants' Association's 150 members. We are also responsible for an estimated 70 per cent of the 10 or so trade fairs held each month.

We disagree with the suggestion of a permanent night market, which has been proposed as a way to deal with rising rentals for pasar malam stalls.

Singapore is a free market, and sites for night markets are tendered out to the highest bidder. High rentals could reflect miscalculations in tender prices for these sites. It does not make sense for the Government to step in.

Even if the authorities think that a permanent night market is a possibility, the site will have to be open for public tender and cannot be allocated to the Trade Fair Merchants' Association unconditionally.

In any case, such plans may take more than five years to be realised and are not a timely solution to the problems the industry faces.

Instead of mulling over this unrealistic proposal, we should focus on helping members of this sunset industry transform their businesses.

This could be done, for example, through consolidating the supply chain to help stall owners cut costs, or through offering business coaching or discounted rents to rookie stall owners, especially those who bring in novel products, such as jewellery pieces or unconventional snacks.

The key is to not give consumers the feeling that pasar malams do not offer anything new.

Ho Chee Eng

General Affairs Director

Federation of Trade Fair Merchants' Association, Singapore

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 11, 2016, with the headline 'Permanent night markets not realistic way to help industry'. Print Edition | Subscribe