Help ongoing for soon-to-be displaced Sungei Road vendors

Vendors and shoppers at the Sungei Road flea market, on Feb 25, 2017.
Vendors and shoppers at the Sungei Road flea market, on Feb 25, 2017. ST PHOTO: SEAH KWANG PENG

SINGAPORE - With less than two months to go before the flea market at Sungei Road closes, 44 of the 200 vendors have a clearer picture of how they might be moving on, having accepted assistance from various government agencies.

Among them, 23 vendors have submitted applications for hawker stalls with 20 allocated units at centres such as Chinatown Market, North Bridge Road Market and Food Centre and Upper Cross Street Market.

Three will be selling their goods at other flea markets occasionally.

Three are also being supported by Workforce Singapore (WSG) in their search for other jobs while the remaining 15 have been granted ComCare assistance, said the authorities who gave an update on Friday (May 12) on the fate of some of the vendors from Singapore's last free hawking zone.

The approximately 80-year-old market will be making way for future residential developments and its last day is July 10.

Over four days in April, officers from the National Environment Agency (NEA), Ministry of Social and Family Development, WSG and the Central Singapore CDC fanned out in teams to engage vendors individually on their needs.

In their joint-media release, officials said engagement was followed up with phone calls or home visits, with the vendors being receptive.

Ms Adeline Leong, director of NEA's food and environmental hygiene department, said NEA set aside more than 30 hawker stalls specifically for Sungei Road vendors to apply for, "although hawker stalls are in high demand in Singapore and are at near full occupancy".


Aside from these, vendors may also apply for other stalls that are available in NEA's monthly tenders.

About 50 Sungei Road vendors had indicated interest in taking up lock up stalls at hawker centres.

NEA also identified seven flea markets close to the homes of about 20 Sungei Road vendors who have expressed interest in such stalls and are helping them to facilitate their take-up.

Ms Leong said: "We stand ready to help any Sungei Road Hawking Zone (SRHZ) user in getting a hawker stall or a flea market to continue their trade."

Among those who were helped was rag-and-bone man, Mr Lim Teck Nam, 70, who ventured to a flea market at the Whampoa Community Club on May 7 with bags, necklaces, sunglasses and other knick-knacks to sell.

Mr Lim, who has two daughters, said he was pleased the flea market was near his home, although he added: "There's more money to be made at Sungei Road. But I will leave it to fate and live one day at a time."

The authorities also noted that about 70 vendors had indicated they did not require any assistance as they were able to support themselves or find other jobs. The authorities said they were reaching out to the remaining vendors and that help was ongoing for all.

NEA's Ms Leong said: "We understand that there are some users who have the means to support themselves after the closure of SRHZ and do not require any assistance.

"Nonetheless, we will continue to keep in touch with them, and help them with the various assistance options should they wish to apply for them."

Summarising the sentiment of some of his fellow vendors, Mr Koh Eng Khoon, chairman of the Association for the Recycling of Second Hand Goods at Sungei Road flea market who represents about 70 of them, said those who have accepted hawker stalls "have their doubts on how business will do" but are trying out these alternatives.

The Housing Development Board will also be releasing five retail shops in June which vendors can bid for. It also has another 20 void-deck kiosks meant for use as mini-marts or convenience stores, and those who wish to change to these trades can bid for them over the next three months.

Despite these offers from agencies, some vendors are still holding out hope that a new site for the flea market can be found, despite repeated statements from the Government that this will not happen.

One of them, Mr Tan Meow Teck, 62, has not accepted any government assistance, saying: "Dispersing us will be bad for business. My preference is still for an alternative site."

Mr Koh added that vendors are willing to pay rent at an alternative site.

A petition by a group called Save Sungei Road Market garnered 937 signatures to have the issue heard again in Parliament, and for the market to be relocated instead of permanently closed. According to the group's Facebook page, which has more than 2,100 likes since it was set up in late March, the petition was submitted to Parliament by Nominated MP Kok Heng Leun on May 5.