KUALA LUMPUR, Dec 31 — When Federal Territories Minister Tan Sri Annuar Musa announced his plan to offer temporary roadside vendor licences to those struggling to make ends meet, there were strong objections from both Opposition lawmakers as well as members of the public.
They feared that this would encourage people to ignore existing rules and regulations meant to manage roadside vendors, including setting up stalls at locations that would obstruct traffic and worsen cleanliness in neighbourhoods.
Well, it has been more than a month since the start of the “Free Trading Area” programme on November 15. Has Kuala Lumpur become more congested and filthier from additional roadside vendors?
Malay Mail, in a check around the city and its surrounds, found that while there are indeed more roadside vendors now, they are not necessarily obstructing traffic or contributing to environmental pollution.
A bundle clothing (or pre-loved clothing) stall owner Sazarina Bakri, 35, said there are some criteria that need to be met before Kuala Lumpur City Hall (DBKL) approves licence applications.
“We are not allowed to set up our stall just anywhere although that is the impression that the public has.
“For me I live nearby so we checked with DBKL if this location (sidewalk beneath her apartment) was suitable and they approved it,” she said when met at her stall in Sentul.
Sazarina said another condition they had to fulfil was to maintain cleanliness of the area where the stall is located.
After obtaining the temporary trader’s licence, she said that she no longer has to worry about the authorities questioning the legitimacy of her business.
“We are very thankful that this licence was introduced by the government.
“With it, we can now set up our stall here legally and not have to always look over our shoulders in case the authorities appear to confiscate our goods,” she said.
Previously, Sazarina had been trying to apply for a licence for her business ― car boot sale ― but she was always turned down by the authorities.
“I was told that the authorities did not have a specific licence for the nature of my business. So with this, I can finally breathe a sigh of relief,” she said.
Sazarina said she needed this stall to support her family after her husband lost his job this year.
“So far we have not faced any problems… in fact our neighbours and those who live in the vicinity said our stall is at a convenient spot and our customers no longer have to travel out of their neighbourhood if they wish to do some shopping,” she added.
Alex Chau, 59, too applied for the temporary licence since his income was affected by the Covid-19 pandemic as well.
“I have been here for two years selling vegetarian food but it is not easy to apply for a licence to open up a stall.
“So recently some DBKL officers told me that I can now apply for the temporary licence.
“At least then I can run my business without worrying about breaking the law,” he said.
When Junas Azizi Muhammad Nasir, 37, heard about the Free Trade Area licence, he jumped at the opportunity to save his business from further deteriorating due to prolonged movement control order (MCO) which did not allow roadside vendors to operate for about four months.
“Before Covid-19 hit, we used to have a spot at the Metropolitan Park in Kepong (or Taman Layang Layang). But because the park had to stay shut throughout the first few months of MCO, we lost our source of income.
“Even after the park was reopened, it has been very challenging and we have been operating at a loss,” he said when met at his stall at the KL Traders Square on Jalan Gombak.
At his new spot, Junas, who sells deep-fried snacks, said they are at least able to cover the cost of their business even if it meant only RM100 to RM120 a day.
“This area at least has more foot traffic, so business has so far been decent,” he said.
However, there are several challenges new vendors have to face, Junas said
“Just last night, some residents of the KL Traders Square took a picture of our stall, claiming we are making a mess of the apartment compound.
“That’s not true… because according to rules set by DBKL, we are allowed to occupy the public sidewalk.
“We have also taken up this matter with the apartment management and they assured us that we are allowed to carry on with our business here,” he said.
According to Junas, complaints from residents started when he first arrived at KL Trader Square to set up his stall.
“But what can I do? We are in a way ‘invading’ their property but with permission from the authorities and we have ‘kept our end of the bargain’ and that is to keep this area clean while we are here.
“We hope the residents understand where we are coming from and that we will not be here permanently… only until next April,” he added.
Other stall owners located on a pavement parallel to where Junas set up said unknown parties have been littering the area with garbage to “sabotage” stall owners’ reputation.
“Each night before we leave our stalls, we make sure the area is spotless.
“But by morning, when we arrive, the area would be full of garbage, but these are garbage that don’t belong to us,” said Tutik Sutan Bujang who sells pastries and cakes.
The 38-year-old said the matter has been brought up with the property management but the situation remains the same.
“There is nothing we can do because we are not from here, we’re just here temporarily.
“But I hope that the tenants and residents here will be more understanding,” she added.
Tutik had resorted to setting up a stall in front of the apartment building when MCO commenced in March.
“Before the MCO, I used to sell at different pasar malam (night markets).
“I travel as far as Tanjung Malim to sell my cakes and pastries. But when MCO hit in March, I couldn’t sell anywhere,” she said.
But not every vendor looks at the free licences as a positive move.
Lilly Anthonysamy, 57, who lost her job five years ago, has a business selling Indian breakfast.
Things were going well until Covid-19 hit and the MCO began. Lilly’s business went downhill when the government prohibited roadside stalls from operating.
“So for a few months we had no income. My business recovered a little after the government allowed us to reopen, but now it seems like our breakfast food business could be facing another challenge.
“With more stalls opened, our business is affected,” she said when met in Sentul.
Lilly, who is waiting for her business licence approval, worries that new vendors want to claim her spot.
“I am waiting for my licence to be ready, but because there are so many new roadside vendors and they already have the free trading licence, I’m worried that they may demand for my spot simply because I don’t have a business licence yet.
“So far no one has tried to do so. I really hope it remains the same as I am the only one in this area selling Indian food,” she said.
Since November 15, traders under the programme are allowed to sell anything except contraband throughout the six-month period.
The Federal Territories minister said those who are interested must first contact their respective local authorities and provide information on what they intend to sell and where they would be conducting business.
This is so authorities can conduct checks and ensure the businesses do not obstruct traffic.
Throughout this period, the temporary licences will be approved automatically.