Illegal hawkers ignore NEA warnings

Madam Yanti (left) selling curry puffs outside an MRT station.
Madam Yanti (left) selling curry puffs outside an MRT station.ST PHOTO: DESMOND WEE

Curry puffs, otah and roasted chestnuts sold near bus interchanges and MRT stations may look like tasty and convenient snacks - but they are being sold illegally.

Despite enforcement efforts by the National Environment Agency (NEA), illegal hawkers are continuing to ply their trade.

Last year, around 9,800 tickets were issued to more than 1,000 offenders. Eighty-one per cent of the tickets were given out to repeat offenders. From January to May this year, about 3,300 tickets were issued to 528 offenders.

Illegal hawkers told The Straits Times they did not know what else to do to make a living.

Madam Yanti, a 38-year-old Indonesian who goes by one name, has spent two weeks selling curry puffs at three for a dollar from a cardboard box. She said she makes about $30 a day. A box can fetch up to $50.

She knows what she is doing is illegal, but needs the money to pay the school fees of her sons, aged 10 and 18. Her husband takes home only $150 a month.

"My friends told me I can do this or take a part-time job," said the former maid from Batam.

The curry puffs come from Johor Baru, Malaysia, and she has a Singaporean "employer" who tells her where to sell but does not take money from her. She rents a room with a few others, and is here on a social visit pass.

Another illegal hawker, chestnut seller Tan Hoe Soon, 60, believes the NEA should issue licences to such "mobile" businesses.

On a good day, he says, he can earn $200 to $300 on the streets.

But he has also paid heavily for that, spending time in jail when he could not pay a $1,300 fine for illegal hawking.

The NEA said it refers needy illegal hawkers to other agencies for assistance. Its street hawking scheme allows the sale of food that is not easily perishable and requires minimum handling - such as ice cream.

Illegal hawkers are popular with many people, despite fears over hygiene.

Offenders face a maximum fine of $1,000 the first time. For subsequent offences, they can be fined up to $4,000 or sent to jail for up to three months.

Ms Lee Bee Wah, chairman of the Government Parliamentary Committee for National Development and Environment, said: "The licensed vendor can be held accountable if there is any case of unhygienic food handling resulting in illness."

She added that street hawking has to be done in a controlled situation so streets do not end up littered. She suggested that such hawkers can apply for stalls in schools, coffee shops or markets so they are legally registered.