GEORGE TOWN: Malay traders here feel that Majlis Bandaraya Pulau Pinang (MBPP) is being hard on them, and believe that there is a racial bias in enforcement action.
They also support the actions of two workers who hijacked a council lorry last Thursday.
FMT surveyed about 20 roadside traders in Air Itam who were Malays, with half of them not aware of the incident which shocked Penangites and the nation.
However, when asked about the alleged racial bias, they say it is very obvious and “nothing new”.
“Don’t go so far, go to the Air Itam town in the morning, especially during the weekends, you will see what I mean,” a trader who wanted to be known as Fadhil said.
“Hawkers, eating shops all by the roadside. The road is already so narrow.
“I have seen a man selling pork by the roadside. Everyone knows him, he is an old timer. He chops up meat by the road side. Kenapa dia tak kena? (Why has no action been taken against him?),” he questioned.
Fadhil said popular Chinese street fare such as the ones in Macalister Road appear to operate in an “enforcement-free” cloak for many years.
He said Chinese traders operated by the roadside, similar to the seafood stall or “any other Malay” stall in Penang, but no action was taken against them.
“Look at New Lane, Chulia Street, Sungai Pinang. If you call us illegal, then what about them? You have to play fair!” said Fadhil, who operates a ‘kueh’ shop at a service road next to Jalan Paya Terubong, Air Itam.
Fadhil and about 10 others operate along a tiny food court built by the city council on top of a walkway/monsoon drain cover there.
Fadhil said he and the other traders had operated by the road shoulder for more than a decade before the state began a road widening project about two years ago.
The traders there are mostly wives’ of police officers.
Stalls not up to mark
The council built 33 lots and it was completed last August. Despite being built by the council, Fadhil said most of the stalls do not have water supply and were too small.
“The size of our stall is smaller than the usual trading space, measuring about 15ft in width and 8ft in height, and without any space for tables and chairs,” Fadhli said.
He added that traders have resorted to using unoccupied lots next to them as seating areas, with a verbal understanding with other eateries to share such empty spaces.
Meanwhile, the operator of a Malay food stall along the stretch, Amirah, 39, said many Malay traders are afraid of voicing out against the state government or the city council, fearing a backlash.
“Based on the incident in Gurney yesterday, if we protest anything, we will be arrested.
“I am so afraid. They are so strict with us, we cannot even install blinds for our stalls. If we do, we will be fined RM40,” she said.
Amirah said council officers often came to monitor their stall and due to her insistence on having blinds installed, she would willingly pay the fine.
“When it rains, all my food items will get wet. When it is hot, we will be sweating. Come on lah, a RM40 fine just for having blinds? It is crazy,” she said.
Amirah said complaints of rampant theft of items such as gas cylinders, chairs and tables during closing hours was also unheeded by the council.
“I also feel for those who had their items taken away in raids. We have a very small budget between RM5,000 and RM10,000.
“Every time our things get taken away, we lose more money. We’re just trying to earn a living,” she said.
Another stall operator, who refused to be named, said the duo who fled with the lorry had done “the right thing”.
“Although their way of dealing with the issue might not be right, they have delivered some justice on behalf of people like us.
“Given a chance, I would not have driven it to the police station. I would have taken the lorry to Batu Ferringhi, and driven it into the sea!” the man said.