(© How Wee Choon / Dreamstime)
EACH festive season, the Petaling Jaya City Council, otherwise known by its Malay acronym MBPJ, gives out temporary licences to traders to sell festive goods in specially designated public car parks. This helps traders earn extra income, generate economic activity within the council’s borders, and add a festive cheer to neighbourhoods.
One such festive bazaar is located in SS2, where a particular corner has become well known for having a lively and colourful annual Chinese New Year bazaar.
The demand to trade in the SS2 Cares Chinese New Year Street Carnival is sizeable. However, for the MBPJ, it is not a simple matter of just giving out trading licences to applicants.
In early December 2008, MBPJ councillors received complaints that the bazaar has been monopolised through the years by the same traders. Demands were made for the trading licences to instead be fairly distributed.
The original traders in the area got wind of this effort. They quickly argued that making the licences fair game would unfairly penalise them as they were the ones who had struggled to make the bazaar popular. Those calling for a “fair game” were vultures seeking to profit off their hard work, the original traders said.
In trying to reach a win-win situation, the MBPJ decided that the majority of trading licences should be given to the original traders. But some avenue would be created to allow new traders in.
To be fair to both original and new traders, the MBPJ identified all the traders who traditionally occupied more than one car park lot and made these lots available to the public via a lot drawing exercise. The traders who had lost their extra lots were also allowed to participate in the draw so that they stood a chance of regaining their lost lot.
As expected, some of the original traders regained their extra lots and some new traders managed to get into the bazaar. But the original traders who were unable to regain their extra lots complained that the MBPJ was being unfair.
(© Tianbin Liu / Dreamstime)
When interviewed, these traders claimed they had paid good money to an individual to secure their extra lots. They, however, refused to name the person.
Paying their way
The bazaar opened on 9 Jan 2009, and there were even more complaints, not least from unlicensed traders who had set up their stalls in the area.
When the MBPJ enforcement team went to the ground to take action, these illegal traders cried foul. They claimed they had paid RM1,500 to an individual to secure their place, the same individual the other traders talked about.
Before anyone condemns these traders for bribery, it should be noted that this has been their practice all these years, and no punishment has befallen them. Naturally, they now question why things have changed.
Disgruntled traders who paid the individual are aplenty, but none are willing to report the matter officially because the law treats those who bribe and those who are bribed as equally guilty of a crime.
At the same time, the particular individual maintained that no wrong was done, as the sum collected was meant for administrative fees. Because many of these traders do not know how to fill up the necessary council forms, he was merely providing a paid service. The fee wasn’t meant to secure a trading licence.
On the ground, enforcement officers, unable to explain things appropriately in defence of their actions, have told the unlicensed traders that it was the Pakatan Rakyat councillors who ordered them to take action. Perhaps the officers should have been briefed to explain to the unlicensed traders that extra licences were not issued for a logical and legitimate reason. There are already shops in the area and there was a need to control the number of traders to prevent a traffic problem.
The individual who provides “paid services” to bazaar traders associates closely with some Pakatan Rakyat elected representatives, just as the person did with many former elected representatives from the Barisan Nasional.
I can only surmise that this is the reason the traders continue to believe this person’s promise that MBPJ will not take action if they trade without licences.
Like it or not, the patronage system that was previously in place is still in operation. It’s going to take some effort to make things right, especially since many of us are still struggling to learn about how things should be legally done, and how things are actually done: with bribes, unfounded promises and threats.
(© Homestudiofoto / Dreamstime) Without evidence to act on the traders’ complaints and because of the need to uphold the law, Pakatan Rakyat councillors now have to take the rap from a certain segment of the community. Doing the right thing can, unfortunately, make one unpopular.
MBPJ councillor KW Mak wishes everyone a Happy Chinese New Year. He wishes for peace and quiet during this festive season even if he doubts it is possible.