Terengganu govt defends decision to replace iconic Chinese market-food court

PETALING JAYA: A new commercial building that will replace an iconic market and food court dear to the Chinese community of Kuala Terengganu will bring big benefits to the enclave, says the Terengganu government.

In defending its decision to tear down the Kampung Tiong market and food court, the Perikatan Nasional-ruled administration also called the 40-year-old facility an “eye-sore” due to its old age.

Terengganu exco member Datuk Wan Sukairi Wan Abdullah said that traders and hawkers at the Kampung Tiong market-food court had already been told that the land they temporarily occupied could be developed at any time and to be prepared for that eventuality.

“Tenants must also understand that the Kuala Terengganu City Council's policy and planning is not just for the present but that it will bring a large economic impact to Kampung Cina,” Wan Sukairi wrote to The Star in an email.

In an immediate response to Wan Sukairi, Dr Monna Ong, the hawkers association's advisor, described the city council's decision to move the market as “unreasonable” given that it would be away from its main customer base.

“The hawkers have been serving predominantly Chinese customers. Moving them to a different location away from the Chinese community presents a significant challenge,” said Ong, who is also Terengganu MCA chairperson.

“It is unreasonable to expect Chinese businesses to operate outside of Chinatown (Kampung Cina), just as it is impractical to ask a bird to fly without wings”.

Kampung Cina is a historic enclave and landmark in Kuala Terengganu city which is next door to the Kampung Tiong market-food court.

“In these challenging times, the city council needs to find new sources of revenue and the new residential property that will be built on the site could provide RM1mil in assessment taxes every year,” said Wan Sukairi, who oversees the local government, housing and health portfolio.

“This development will become the new landmark for Kuala Terengganu and be a tourist attraction.”

The decision to move the market's merchants and food hawkers has upset the local Chinese community, with residents and their supporters saying that it reflected Perikatan's insensitivity to the feelings of minorities in Terengganu.

The decision to replace the market comes as Perikatan leaders openly claimed that it wanted to convince non-Muslims that the coalition is able to take care of their interests, supporters of the market said.

Traders told The Star that they had been given orders to vacate the market-food court by the end of November.

Residents said that the market-food court had been a popular hub and hang out spot for the Chinese community for the past 40 years especially over the weekend.

It is the only one of its kind for the Chinese community in Kuala Terengganu, with food and goods catered to them.

There are close to 100 individual businesses that are evenly divided between market traders and food hawkers. A handful of the food stalls are run by Muslims who have loyal customers among the mostly Chinese customers.

The morning market stalls would feature a variety of daily groceries such as vegetables, noodles and fruits as well as clothes, wallets, belts, stationery and prayer items.

The majority of the food hawkers offer Chinese staples such as fried noodles, chicken rice, biscuits and buns but there are also a few stalls run by Muslims that sold satay, kuih and nasi kerabu.

Wan Sukairi said that the food hawkers have been given replacement lots at different food courts through out Kuala Terengganu owned by the city council.

The market's merchants meanwhile, are being offered a new site to set up stalls at the Kuala Terengganu waterfront, which is about one kilometre away from Kampung Cina.

Ong, th hawkers’ advisor, urged for the relocation deadline to be extended until after the Chinese New Year next year so that they are able to get as much income from two months leading up to festival.

“It is crucial that this modest extension is granted. Failing to do so would raise doubts about the government's sincerity in caring for non-Muslim communities”.

The merchants had also been told to use removable tents at the new site which are impractical given the current heavy rains and winds from the on-going monsoon season, she added.

“If their tents are not secure, not only will their merchandise be at risk of wind and rain damage, but their businesses will also suffer greatly”.

“While supporting the city's development is important, it must be done after ensuring that the relocation of these hawkers is carried out in a manner that minimizes any adverse impact on their businesses”.

“The policies and plans of the government, which claim to have a significant economic impact on the development of the Chinatown area, should not be used as justification for overlooking the welfare of the hawkers”.

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