SINGAPORE: 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, said Senior Minister of State for Environment and Water Resources Amy Khor in Parliament on Monday (Jul 3).
Dr Khor was responding to questions from MP for Nee Soon GRC Er Dr Lee Bee Wah and Nominated Member of Parliament Kok Heng Lun regarding the help given to these vendors, and whether the Government will reconsider its decision not to provide a replacement site for the country’s largest and oldest flea market. The Sungei Road flea market, also known as the Thieves’ Market, will see its last day on Jul 10 this year.
According to Dr Khor, all users of the Sungei Road Hawking Zone (SRHZ) “who are in need of help and have come forward are being assisted”.
Altogether, the various Government agencies, including the National Environment Agency (NEA), the Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF) and the Workforce Singapore (WSG), have engaged about 200 users of the SRHZ, most of whom are aged between 40 and 65 years old.
More than 60 are receiving some form of Government assistance, including those who have been allocated lock-up stalls at hawker centres, Dr Khor said. The 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 per cent rental rebate for the first year and a 50 per cent rental rebate for the second year. For all other users, we have offered a 50 per cent 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,” she explained.
So far, 29 SRHZ users have been allocated a lock-up stall, with many of these stalls being clustered at nearby hawker centres – the Chinatown Market and the Golden Mile Food Centre, Dr Khor added.
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 Ministry of Social and Family Development (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, she said.
So far, 18 out of 23 individuals who applied for financial assistance are assessed to be eligible and have received financial assistance, according to Dr Khor.
Besides those who are receiving help, there are 70 or so users who have earlier indicated interest to receive assistance but have not yet come forward to apply. Dr Khor noted that these users “have indicated that they will decide on their future plans only after the closure of the SRHZ”. For this group, the Government will continue to reach out to them, she added.
Meanwhile, more than 80 SRHZ users have indicated 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,” Dr Khor explained.
In response to a supplementary question from Mr Kok on whether the Government will consider relocation plans that the grassroot community has presented, Dr Khor said the offering of lock-up stalls at hawker centres to SRHZ users may be a “more sustainable, permanent solution” given the changes at the flea market over the years.
“The SRHZ used to be a place where you could find very unique antiques, knick knacks and so on but I think overtime, the nature of the site has changed, in terms of the profile of the users of the site, as well as the buyers and the type of goods sold.”
According to Dr Khor, the commonly sold goods at the SRHZ now may not necessarily be second-hand goods and usually consists of clothes, watches, handphone covers, cables as well as shoes.
“These are goods that are not unique to or only sold at SRHZ. In fact, you can find them at neighbourhood shops too. Indeed, the sale of second hand goods is not limited to the SRHZ. There are already existing avenues that these good are sold, such as existing flea markets that are ground-up initiatives… and also online.”
As such, for the SRHZ users who wish to continue to ply the trade, the Government has offered them “concrete relocation alternatives, either in lock-up stalls in hawker centres or markets or existing flea markets where the goods sold are not incompatibale with what the SRHZ users want to sell”.
These new business locations could be a “more sustainable, permanent solution” that will offer opportunities for users to expand their offerings to include new goods, Dr Khor said. She referred to Mdm Tan Guo Mei as an example, who is now selling both second-hand and new goods at her new stall at Chinatown Market.