Lembah Pantai hawkers forced out

Patrick Lee
| October 14, 2011

They are being moved by DBKL to a haphazardly constructed alternative site much like their Little India counterparts months earlier.
KUALA LUMPUR: Haphazard and indiscriminate planning is causing a lot of suffering to dispossessed Lembah Pantai traders.

In repeat of the Little India hawker episode, the traders are being told by KL City Hall (DBKL) to move their businesses to a temporary centre off Jalan Pantai Permai.

They will have to share the cramped Bazaria centre with at least 130 other hawkers. None of them know, however, how long they are to be located there.

Sundry shop owner Dhaiful Amran Kasim, 38, owned a roadside stall along Jalan Pantai Permai for over 3 years.

He used to earn RM70 a day selling cigarettes, snacks and other items. He was then moved to Bazaria three days ago, losing his regular clientele in the process.

“They told me I have to be here temporarily, I don’t know whether it is permanent…I can’t do anything about it,” he told FMT, sitting outside his new lot.

Once, his business faced the main road, which led to the New Pantai Expressway (NPE). Today, Jalan Pantai Permai is positioned at the back of his shop, hidden from passers-by.

All he sees in front of his shop now is a single road with narrow parking spaces. Like Dhaiful’s, most of the lots face inward towards this road instead of towards the main road, adjacent to the dozens of Bukit Angkasa low-cost flats.

Snaking through the hawker centre, the road is also the only way in or out of the area for cars or motorcycles.

Many of the lots are empty, awaiting new tenants to occupy them. Several hawkers have occupied them; FMT even spotted one of the lots housing a motorcycle repair shop.

The lots also seem to show signs of poor and haphazard planning: TNB electric meters are at shoulder height, well within the reach of children.

Hawker K Parameswari, 54, told FMT that her new stall in the Bazaria centre was too small.

Like Dhaiful, she was made to move here after her original stall – located further away from Jalan Pantai Permai – was demolished more than three months ago.

“They told me this place was temporary, but I have no idea for how long it will be,” she said, adding that her new lot was “too narrow” to operate from.

A food seller in the area for over 20 years, Parameswari also said that while she was allowed to keep her licence, she did not have to pay any rent.

In a visit to Lembah Pantai today, FMT noticed DBKL destroying most of the age-old shops along Jalan Pantai Permai.

Excavators were levelling most of the stalls and not all of them were vacant. Several people were still inside trading as bulldozers reduced to rubble their former neighbours’ stalls.

Though present at the scene, DBKL enforcement officers did not consider escorting an anxious family in one spared nasi lemak stall to safety as the one next-door was being destroyed .

Strangely enough, it was the only one left intact in a row of destroyed shops.

‘Umno warlords intimidating hawkers’

At the Bazaria hawker centre later, Lembah Pantai MP (PKR) Nurul Izzah Anwar told reporters that DBKL left her in ther dark about the hawkers’ plight.

Concerned, she then wrote to City Hall on June 9, asking about the seemingly haphazard construction of the Bazaria centre.

Nurul then learned through a Aug 4 DBKL response letter that the centre did not require City Hall to release a Certificate of Fitness for the place.

The centre, it added, was also built by a local property developer known as Amona Group as a Corporate Social Responsibility.

The architects in charge of the centre’s design, she found out, also did not obtain a Certificate of Completion and Compliance (CCC).

“This is very shocking as the migration (of stalls) has taken place. You (DBKL) have destroyed the shops along the main road with the promise of new lots for these stalls.”

“If there was a problem here such as a fire, what would happen to the tenants?” she asked.

According to the letter, provided by Nurul, DBKL did not build exit doors for any of the lots, as they did not want the tenants making “extensions or changes” to the back of the shops.

The electricity meters, the letter added, was also in compliance with TNB standards, or at a 1,750mm distance from the floor.

Nurul said that DBKL was filling up the lots in several phases. She added that tenants who did not have their stalls destroyed today would be shifted accordingly.

“We asked DBKL when this would happen, but they could not say,” Nurul added.

She also hinted at Umno’s involvement behind the Bazaria centre. Local “Umno warlords”, she said, sat behind the hawker’s association’s leadership and enforced a “culture of fear” amongst the traders.

“If they (hawkers) complain to the MP (me) or if they appear with me publicly, there’s always retribution,” she said.

Nurul, however, declined to say if Amona Group was controlled by Malaysia’s ruling party. Nevertheless, she did hint at the company’s Umno links.

“Amona is a well-known company in Lembah Pantai. Even the Mayor (Ahmad Fuad Ismail) himself admitted that in the Bukit Gasing (part of KL)…was meant to be a green area.”

“But the Mayor told me that the area was given to Amona Group as a pet project under the Economic Planning Unit with the consent of (former Prime Minister) Abdullah Ahmad Badawi,” she said.

The fate of the Lembah Pantai hawkers is eeriely similar to that of their Brickfields’ counterparts. In mid-2010, dozens of traders were forced to move to a cramped hawker centre by Jalan Chan Ah Tong while the developer, Malaysian Resources Corporation Berhad (MRCB) transformed the area into Little India.

At the time, the government regarded the MRCB-built hawker centre as as CSR move. The migrated hawkers were then told that they were only going to be there for a few months.

Many of them would end up languishing there for more than eight months, and resorted to closing their shops down during this period due to poor business.