THERE was visible decrease in customer traffic at the Bandar Sungai Long morning market in Kajang, Selangor due to the movement control order and proclamation of Emergency, which left traders worried about their livelihood.
“We were so anxious on Monday, ” said Fanny Lim.
“So many of us were worried that our livelihoods would be affected again.
“But when Kajang Municipal Council gave us the green light to continue trading, we could not help but feel relieved.
As chairman of Bandar Sungai Long Petty Traders Association (PPPKBSL), Lim speaks for 198 traders operating at Jalan SL1.
“Although earlier announcements said daily markets would be allowed to remain open during the MCO, many traders were still unsure if that included open-air markets, ” she said.
This was because during the first MCO imposed last March, morning market traders in Sungai Long were barred from operating for a total of 103 days.
PPPKBSL treasurer Lee Cheng Lee remembered how he and his wife were struggling to make ends meet.
“When the first MCO happened, we only had RM8,000 in the bank.
“By May, we had exhausted our savings, ” said Lee, a heart patient who underwent a bypass 10 years ago.
During the first MCO, morning markets were not allowed to open until the end of June.
Grateful for the chance to stay in business this time, morning market traders here have pooled their resources to ensure everyone adheres to the SOP set by the National Security Council (MKN).
Each trader pays PPPKBSL RM5 a day per trading lot for this purpose.
StarMetro observed on Wednesday that the traders had set up two Rela posts, one at each end of the morning market, to register visitors and check their temperature.
Lim is in charge of ensuring traders maintain distance between stalls, keep the area clean and wear face masks as well as gloves.
Bearing the brunt
The happy atmosphere at the Bandar Sungai Long morning market is a stark contrast to the mood of the association’s committee member Loh Kok Man who represents 130 night market traders in Bandar Sungai Long.
“This MCO is going to be a difficult time for us, ” he said.
“With Chinese New Year just around the corner and the fact that we only had the chance to work for five months last year, the restriction on night markets for this current MCO could not have come at a worse time.
He estimated that night market traders in Bandar Sungai Long would suffer a loss of RM250,000 for each day that they were not allowed to trade.
They pointed out that the Covid-19 virus did not choose the time of day to infect their victims.
“Allowing night markets to open would be beneficial to residents as this would allow them to space out shopping times and prevent crowding at the morning market, ” they reasoned.
They also highlighted that 60% of night market traders had switched to selling food items, thus they would be in line with MKN’s directive for the allowance of food stalls in the permitted list of essentials.
Night market traders in other parts of the Klang Valley are equally disappointed and confused as to why they cannot open for business during the current MCO, but the morning and farmers markets can operate.
Shah Alam and Klang Bumiputera Night Market Traders Association (PPPMBSAK) chairman Kamarul Nizam Razak said the government’s guidelines were still unclear, similar to the first MCO in March last year.
“Night markets are in the open air, which is better if you ask me, unlike markets in a building with air-conditioning.
“Farmers market and night markets have similar mode of operations, so I don’t see why we cannot open for business.
“We can still adhere to SOP put in place with contact tracing and temperature scanners at the site.
“It is unfair to ban night markets from operating, ” he told StarMetro.
On Tuesday, Senior Minister Datuk Seri Ismail Sabri Yaakob had announced that wet markets and farmers markets (pasar tani) could operate from 7am to 2pm during the current MCO.
PPPMBSAK has about 400 members, comprising not only Malay traders but those of other races.
“In a night market, we have about 200 trading lots, similar to a farmers market that sells food, meat, produce and even clothes.
“Our traders are frustrated because this will severely affect their daily income again after just recovering from their losses last year, ” said Kamarul.
He said most night market traders lived hand to mouth and did not have any savings.
Albert How, 37, a trader who sells cellphone accessories at the Bukit Kuchai night market in Puchong, said if the government wanted to prevent crowds in a location, it should close all types of markets during the MCO.
“How is the ruling fair to night market traders?
“We are already finding it difficult to make ends meet.
“If the government wants to shut down trading for two weeks, then apply the ruling to everyone, ” he said.
How said it was unfair for night markets traders to face the brunt when there had not been Covid-19 cases from outdoor markets.
New trade hours proposed
Sri Petaling Night Market Association chairman Frankie Cheah hopes the government will revise its decision to ban night markets.
He suggested that the government consider changing the timing for night markets to perhaps open from 2pm to 7pm.
“We understand the rationale for MCO and Emergency.
“But since morning markets can open, we night market traders should be given equal opportunity, more so when the traders have stocks of Chinese New Year products to sell.
“The festive season is coming, how are they going to earn an income now?” he asked.
Cheah said many of the traders from the association were in their 60s and 70s and not Internet-savvy to sell their products online.
“The government, including Kuala Lumpur City Hall (DBKL), should think about the welfare of the mid to low-income groups.
“We will still follow strict SOP with what we have in place, which are designated entry and exit points along with all other protocols, ” he said.
Petaling Jaya Night Market Association secretary Ken Lee urged the government to at least allow the traders to start their business early and close before 8pm.
Many traders have invested in Chinese New Year supplies such as cookies and mandarin oranges.
“We have already imported our goods and they are ready for sale. These are perishable items and we have to sell them fast.
“We have been following the SOP since June and we will continue to follow all rulings imposed by the government, ” said Lee whose association has 300 members.
Lee said many traders had been in debt since March last year and were looking forward to making some profit leading up to Chinese New Year.
“We only made some profit in June last year during the recovery MCO. We did not do well in September because of the rainy season.
“Most night market traders have been looking forward to making some profit in the upcoming weeks but our hopes are now shattered, ” said Lee who also oversees the night markets in SS2 and SS24.Petaling Jaya Harmoni Night Market Traders Association Selangor secretary Norita Nordit said their members had spent a lot of their savings to renew their trade licence and paid upfront for goods.
“Allow night market traders to open from 2pm to 7pm instead of 4pm to 10pm. We can make adjustments.
“We also encourage MKN to visit us on the ground to see how we operate.
“If they want us to wear gloves and face shields, we will do it because we are desperate to make a living.
“The problem is many of us are running low on cash and have to dig into our savings to restart our business.
“Many of these traders are from the B40 income group, ” added Norita.
Lack of financial aid
Selangor Indian Chamber of Commerce and Entrepreneurs secretary-general MSP Tharchanaa said the effects of the current MCO would be damaging to lower-income groups.
“Most businesses within the (lower-income) Indian community are not well established.
“They cannot operate like normal anymore.
“Many of them are also still confused as to whether they can operate or not.
“Will the MCO be for two weeks or two months? At least in March last year, the government announced a bank loan moratorium to help the people.
“No financial assistance has been offered this time, ” he said.
Tharchanaa said many traders were approaching banks for loan restructuring, and this would appear in the traders’ Central Credit Reference Information System (CCRIS) imposed by Bank Negara.
“Without financial assistance, I doubt these traders will survive this MCO.
“They will either reduce their business or close down completely, ” he said.
He urged the government to be consistent about businesses that could operate during the MCO.
“Most Indian businesses comprise textile and jewellery. We are still receiving information as we speak about whether they can operate or not.
Petaling Jaya Bumiputra Night Market Traders Association chairman Kamal Ahmad Abdullah said the crowd was generally smaller at night markets since the MCO was first implemented last March.
“Night market traders do not enjoy a big profit.
“We need to survive and I hope the authorities will listen to our problems.”
He said banning night market traders might result in people having to resort to doing business illegally by the roadside.
A night market trader in Kajang, Fazil Abdul Aziz, 53, said he could not do online food business as his cost would increase.
“I find it hard to take orders online because I cook food in bulk and sell.
“Online orders are not consistent, ” he lamented.
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