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Question by Mr Kok Heng Leun: To ask the Minister for the Environment and Water Resources after the closure of the Sungei Road flea market, how will the Ministry engage and monitor the mental health of the elderly vendors who are displaced after losing their stalls and livelihood.
Question by Er Dr Lee Bee Wah: To ask the Minister for the Environment and Water Resources (a) whether the Government will reconsider its decision not to provide a replacement site for the Sungei Road Hawking Zone (SRHZ); and (b) whether an update can be provided on the help given to the vendors and whether any additional help will be given to vendors after the closure of the SRHZ.
Reply by SMS Dr Amy Khor:
1. Street hawking, or the peddling of goods on the streets, was common in Singapore several decades ago. If you look at old photos of street hawking, you can see the 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. The Government thus undertook to relocate the street hawkers to purpose-built hawker centres and markets. Many street hawkers had made the transition well, making use of the sheltered facilities to sell their goods and going on to expand their offerings.
2. However, not all the street hawkers were resettled and 31 rag-and-bone men were given permits to continue their trade at the Sungei Road site in view of their chosen trade. In 2000, when their permits expired, the site was designated as the Sungei Road Hawking Zone (SRHZ).Only 11 of the 31 original permit holders still remain today.
3. Through the years, many others have taken the opportunity to peddle their goods for free at the SRHZ. However, the activities of the SRHZ have resulted in disamenities such as the obstruction of roads and the storage of goods in surrounding areas including the nearby drains and housing estate, posing risks to public health and incurring additional public resources for the upkeep of the public areas.
4. Despite this, we have continued to allow the SRHZ to remain in operation for as long as we could, even though the area has been zoned for residential use. In fact, when the Jalan Besar MRT station was being constructed in 2011, instead of removing the whole SRHZ, the size of the SRHZ was reduced as required, so that the SRHZ could continue to stay open.
5. We understand that the SRHZ holds memories for some Singaporeans.The National Heritage Board (NHB), therefore, conducted research and documentation to preserve the memories of the site for future generations.A virtual tour of the site as well as other resources are available on the NHB’s heritage portal, roots.sg. Singaporeans have also contributed their personal stories, photographs and videos on social media.
6. Since 2012, we have informed the Association for the Recycling of Second Hand Goods that notice would be given to the users of the SRHZ to cease their operations once the development plans for the Sungei Road area are confirmed. This was also mentioned in this House in 2012. Now that the site where the SRHZ is located is required by the Ministry of National Development (MND) for ground preparation works to facilitate future public residential development, the last day of operations at the SRHZ will be 10 July 2017.
7. We note that there are calls, including a Petition presented earlier by the member, Mr Kok Heng Leun, for the SRHZ to be relocated. Indeed, SRHZ users who wish to continue their trade can do so at appropriate venues such as hawker centres, where there are better facilities and necessary amenities for users to conduct their businesses, or at existing flea markets, where these activities can be properly managed. This is similar to how street hawkers in the past have moved on to purpose-built hawker centres and markets.
8. Users may also take advantage of the opportunities that these new business locations present. For example, Mdm Tan Guo Mei, who was featured in the news recently, took the opportunity when she moved to a lock-up stall at a hawker centre to expand her offerings to include new goods which she can sell at all times and not be exposed to the weather elements. Other SRHZ users who have taken up such stalls have also indicated that they intend to move on to also sell new items such as shoes and accessories, beyond the second-hand items that they used to sell.
9. The National Environment Agency (NEA) has set aside more than 40 lock-up stalls at hawker centres for those SRHZ users who wish to carry on their trade. To assist them in their transition, we have offered the 11 original permit holders a 100 percent rental rebate for the first year and a 50 percent rental rebate for the 2nd year. For all other users, we have offered a 50 percent rental rebate for the first 2 years on a goodwill basis, provided they live in public housing and do not own more than one property. So far 29 SRHZ users have been allocated a lock-up stall. Many of these stalls are clustered at two popular hawker centres not too far from the SRHZ – the Chinatown Market and the Golden Mile Food Centre. The Hawkers’ Associations at these two centres have invited the SRHZ users who have taken up stalls there to join them, which is an important step to help the users integrate into the local hawker centre community. To further assist these SRHZ users in their transition to the new business environment, the NEA will facilitate training for those interested in getting tips on merchandising and display of their items for sale. The NEA has also put out information on their new business locations so that the SRHZ users’ clientele and those who wish to buy second-hand goods can go to these locations after the SRHZ closes.
10. Today, the sale of second hand goods in Singapore is not limited to the SRHZ. Nor does it have to be done solely in hawker centres. For example, in some existing flea markets such as at that at Kreta Ayer, which have been in existence for some 15 years, there have always been vendors who sell second hand goods. We also recognise that some of the users would prefer not to operate daily and wish to sell their goods at flea markets instead of operating a lock-up stall. To this end, the NEA has worked with the People’s Association (PA) and the Central Singapore Community Development Council (CDC) to assist the SRHZ users to tap on existing flea markets.So far, 16 SRHZ users have applied for stalls at flea markets at various locations, including those near their homes. A majority of those who have chosen to continue their trade at flea markets have, in fact, moved to the Kreta Ayer flea market which is located between Block 4 Sago Lane and Chinatown Complex.
11. I note that there have also been calls for the Government to engage the users of the SRHZ more deeply. I would like to take this opportunity to share that we have indeed been doing so.Over the past few months, the NEA has been working with the Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF), the Workforce Singapore (WSG) and Central Singapore CDC to proactively engage the SRHZ users on site, as well as off-site, to offer various forms of assistance after the closure of the site.
12. Besides assistance with getting stalls at hawker centres and flea markets, the WSG has been providing job placement assistance to the SRHZ users who wish to seek employment.The MSF and the Central Singapore CDC have also been actively helping those who require financial assistance to get financial help through the ComCare scheme and other schemes. So far, 18 out of 23 individuals who applied for financial assistance are assessed to be eligible and have received financial assistance. For example, one of them is a 61-year old man who is receiving assistance while he makes the transition to his new job as a cleaner at a primary school.
13. All in, the agencies have engaged about 200 users of the SRHZ, most of whom are between the ages of 40 and 65.All SRHZ users who are in need of help and have come forward are being assisted. More than 60 of them are now receiving some form of Government assistance including those who have been allocated stalls. Another 70 or so had earlier indicated interest to receive assistance. However, they have not yet come forward to apply as many of them have indicated that they will decide on their future plans only after the closure of the SRHZ. More than 80 SRHZ users, however, have told us that they do not require any assistance after the closure of the SRHZ.This is because they are able to support themselves, or their families can support them, or they have full-time jobs elsewhere. Some have shared that they have been plying their trade at the SRHZ as a hobby occasionally on the weekends and will discontinue doing that once the SRHZ closes.
14. Besides the assistance given by the Government agencies, many Grassroots Advisers and community leaders have also been visiting the SRHZ users residing in their constituencies on a one-on-one basis in their homes, to see if they require further community assistance. Those in need have been offered community support such as job referrals and financial help to tide them over the transitional period.Others have also been encouraged to join the health and wellness programmes organised by their Residents’ Committee (RC) as a good way to stay active after the closure of the SRHZ.
15. We would like to thank all who have given their views and suggestions in support of the SRHZ users.I would like to assure members of the House that my ministry will continue to work with the relevant agencies to engage and support the SRHZ users through their transition, and ensure that necessary help is rendered to them even after the closure of the SRHZ. We also encourage the community to continue to support the SRHZ users, for example by patronising their stalls in the hawker centres and the markets.
Last updated: 04 Oct 2017
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