SINGAPORE: Two groups behind a petition asking for the relocation of the Sungei Road flea market have expressed "deepest disappointment" with answers provided by Senior Minister of State for the Environment and Water Resources Amy Khor in Parliament on Monday (Jul 3).
Nominated Member of Parliament Kok Heng Leun submitted a petition seeking an alternative location for the iconic market, popularly referred to as Thieves' Market, in Parliament on Monday - a week before it is set to close on Jul 10.
Dr Khor said the Government has engaged about 200 vendors at the Sungei Road flea market, with more than 60 of them receiving some form of assistance, such as being allocated stalls at hawker centres. All users of the Sungei Road Hawking Zone (SRHZ) “who are in need of help and have come forward are being assisted," she added.
However, the Association of the Recycling of Second Hand Goods and the Save Sungei Road Market Campaign said in a joint statement on Tuesday that the Government had not addressed the issues, including "financial destitution, faced by elderly vendors as a result of the decision to close the market".
"It is apparent that the gaps between what the Government perceives and expressed as adequate, and what the vendors of the Sungei Road market really requested for, are poles apart. None of the “various assistance options” presented to vendors by the National Environment Agency (NEA) is practical or sustainable," the groups said in the statement.
They argued that the majority of vendors from SRHZ were unable to afford the rent and the initial setup costs of taking up lock-up stalls at hawker centres.
Dr Khor, however, had said in Parliament on Monday that rental rebates have been offered to vendors who have decided to move to lock-up stalls.
For instance, 11 vendors have been offered 100 per cent rental rebate in the first year and 50 per cent in the second year. Others have been offered 50 per cent rebate for the first two years provided they live in public housing and do not own more than one property.
The petitioners also made a case to collectively relocate the Sungei Road market, to preserve its "unique branding and history".
"Dispersing them to hawker centres effectively causes the vendors to lose the ‘cluster effect’ of having many businesses from the same industry together in close proximity.
"Reasons for closure - disamenities and risk to public health - are best tackled by community engagement with the stakeholders involved. Such tensions, which are best captured in the 'Not My Backyard' mentality, abound in urban and high density living. Banning one party is not the solution," they said.
"NOT ALL VENDORS SUCCESSFULLY ENGAGED BY GOVT"
The petitioners also questioned the figures Dr Khor cited in Parliament that the Government has engaged about 200 vendors to discuss options and assistance.
Members of the Save Sungei Road Campaign said they found in their survey with the vendors that not all of them were consulted by the Government. "There are vendors who only operate in the weekends who would have missed the NEA officers assigned to 'engage'. The same goes for some vendors who operate from late afternoon," they said.
According to the groups, the vendors as well as various individuals, architects, and groups have submitted letters and proposals to relevant agencies to consider relocating the market as a whole since 2013.
"These proposals have ranged from simple requests of relocation to integration of a flea market in future developments. None of these proposals have been considered and were only acknowledged by generic replies. No ranking officials have ever came in person to meet and dialogue with the representatives of the association."
They said NEA should have a face-to-face meeting with the vendors and other stakeholders of Sungei Road market, so as to have a "constructive discussion" on the impact of the closure of Sungei Road market and the prospects of relocating it. "It is not too late," they added.
"Keeping an 80-year-old heritage site alive for future generations is also an important aspects of building our national identity. Digitisation of the Sungei Road market as a documented memory by the National Heritage Board fails to create the lived experience of our last remaining living street culture."