Harsh words for Sungei Road Association

(This piece is contributed by Chen Xie Ngao, 42, executive)

If I could use one word to describe the actions of Mr. Koh Eng Khoon of the Sungei Road association (technically named Association for the Recycling of Second Hand Goods), that would be: childish.

It started off as a noble cause – to pull the vendors together and help the community, but the line was drawn when they took to sending hell bank notes and threatening letters to the Prime and Deputy Prime Ministers. Ok, so maybe this is still alleged and under investigation…but I leave it to you, the jury of the court of public opinion to decide.

Really? Will acting like a gangster help you achieve your goals?

Furthermore, he has refused the assistance of his Member of Parliament and also of the authorities. It seems like he’s more interested in setting up Facebook pages, doing up petitions, making a ruckus on social media and all manner of tantrum throwing…rather than actually help his community.

For starters, he hasn’t even gotten around to formally organising the people of his Association for the Recycling of Second Hand Goods. Although setup in the year 2012, it has yet to get people elected and work going. For the past 5 years, it has remained a temporary committee.

What have they done for the past 5 years? Apart from writing threatening letters and beating their chests, it doesn’t look like they’re doing much else.

The acts of the association has made it seem like the vendors have had their livelihoods taken away, that the government have taken away their only ricebowl and left them on the streets to rot. That is incorrect and must be set straight.

Firstly, if the government takes away anybody’s rice bowl…what is the next thing that’s going to happen? These people are going to go to welfare services and ask for assistance from this same government. It is not logical.

Apart from Mr. Koh, 44 vendors have accepted various assistance options from the government agencies: including employment and financial help, applications for hawker stalls and even subsidies/free rentals for setting up new stalls. 70 more have indicated that they did not need any help because they’re able to support themselves or find other jobs on their own.

20 vendors have indicated that they’re keen on selling their wares at temporary flea markets and the NEA has identified seven locations near their homes. 41 vendors have taken up this option. Fifteen vendors have been granted financial assistance through ComCare and the MSF is partnering the Central Singapore Community Development Council to refer vendors who might need other assistance schemes.

And Mr. Koh still refuses help offered directly from his MP.

These vendors, whom have become used to a life of trade on the streets have found new ways to carry out their businesses. No longer have they to squat under the blazing midday sun haggling with buyers just to make a few bucks. They now have access to modern amenities and backing of a proper network.

Singapore is a land scarce country. Cemeteries, old HDB estates, pig farms and many old, loved places have had to go to make way for the needs of newer generations. Even Mr. Lee Kuan Yew himself spares not his own house. I think that’s one strong message he’s sending to the rest of us until today.

As the chief of the “Association for the Recycling of Second Hand Goods”, he could have done more. He could have done better. He could have engaged the authorities in more constructive fashion. He could have organised his team to fight a more successful battle. He could even have raised money, resources, maybe even get sponsorships for all manner of reasons. There could have been so much that could have been done.

He may have squandered the opportunity, but there is a lot that this newly setup society could do.

After all, the biggest enemy to the Sungei Road vendors…is not the government, it is not re-development. It is the rise of easy trading technologies such as Carousell, that would put them out of business once and for all.

But that’s another story altogether.



  1. Thank you for sharing your thoughts through this article. Firstly, I am quite happy that the government have been serious about resolving the livelihood issues of the vendors.

    Not many people know that his MP have reached out to him. Good to know that there is heart out there in our public service and politicians.

    I don’t think Mr Koh is the one who sent the ‘threatening’ letter. The police are investigating 2 suspects and have stopped investigating him. Unless there is any new development in this case, please rectify this as the accusations are untrue. No fake news, please!

    I support having the ‘free hawking zone’ because it adds character to our city. Given its 80 years history, it is a pity that we lose this heritage place and future generations won’t have a chance to experience it. There will be no more opportunities for future vendors, treasure hunting, new stories, etc.

    What will take its place in the near future? According to the URA Masterplan, it will be residential with first-floor commercial. With the disappearance of the market, a public ‘space’ is being privatised. I worry because land is scarce and we should not squander meaningful public spaces.

    I don’t think Mr Koh and the association is against development but wishes to discuss with the authorities if there can be ways the market could continue. There are still many vendors who would want to sustain the market.

    I feel that the people and the government can work towards a win-win development of Sungei Road. Why can’t the 1st-floor commercial be Sungei Road Market? We can have excellent amenities and design solutions and make Sungei Road Market even better.

    Open to have a good discussion with other readers here.

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