SINGAPORE- A petition signed by 792 people seeking an alternative location for Sungei Road market was submitted to Parliament on Monday (July 3) - just days before the authorities shut the historic site down on July 10.
Presented by Nominated MP Kok Heng Leun, on behalf of individuals such as the market's association president Koh Eng Khoon, the petition also proposes that the market's fate and relocation be referred to a committee "for further public consultations and deliberation".
Mr Kok said that the petitioners believe that the Sungei Road market, being the only living remnant of the grassroots tradition of free hawking in Singapore, "is an invaluable and irreplaceable element of the organic, intangible heritage and communal identity of our country".
"It is also an indispensable means of livelihood of many dozens of elderly vendors", he said.
Mr Kok also asked how the Ministry of the Environment and Water Resources will engage and monitor the mental health of the elderly vendors who are displaced after losing their stalls and livelihood.
Meanwhile, Nee Soon GRC MP Lee Bee Wah asked whether the Government will reconsider its stand, and provide a replacement site for the market. She also asked if further help will be provided to Sungei Road vendors who have reported a decline in earnings after moving to hawker centres and flea markets - an alternative offered by the authorities.
In response, Senior Minister of State for the Environment and Water Resources Amy Khor reiterated the Government's stand.
She said that old photos of street hawking reflect "poor hygiene conditions, the pollution of waterways, the piles of waste that attracted pests, the potential fire hazards and the obstruction to traffic that resulted in disamenities to the residents at such localities".
This was why the Government undertook to relocate them to purpose-built hawker centres and markets, she said.
Today, the National Environment Agency has set aside more than 40 lock-up stalls at hawker centres for vendors who wish to continue their trade.
The market's 11 original permit holders have been offered a full rental rebate for the first year and a 50 per cent rebate for the second year. Other vendors who take up this option have been offered a 50 per cent rental rebate for their first two years provided that they live in public housing and do not own more than one property.
So far, 29 vendors have been allocated lock-up stalls, said Dr Khor, who added that most of them have naturally clustered at two hawker centres - the Chinatown Market and the Golden Mile Food Centre.
She said that to ease vendors into the transition, the authorities are also offering short training courses to give them tips on merchandising and display. The authorities have also put up information at Sungei Road market itself to update customers on where their new stalls are located.
Dr Khor said:"In fact we are also working with them to come up with fliers that they can distribute to let their customers know where they are."
So far, 18 vendors have received financial assistance. Dr Khor added that the agencies have engaged about 200 vendors of the market, most of whom are between the ages of 40 and 65.
In all, 60 vendors are now receiving some form of government assistance, including those who have been allocated stalls, she said.
Another 70 or so vendors who had indicated interest to receive assistance have yet to apply for aid as they said they would decide on their future plans only after the market's closure.