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Thursday, May 28, 2020

The stench from the PJ market fiasco is unbearable


The closure of the Petaling Jaya Old Town market along Jalan Othman more than a month ago has brought to fore several sinister happenings and the wheeling and dealing of parties occupying the more than 400 stalls within.
Most glaring of them is the pajak system in which many of the stalls rented out by the Petaling Jaya City Council (MBPJ) to local traders for between RM48 and RM140 per month have been leased to, among others, undocumented foreigners for up to 30 times the amount.
This amount is supposed to cover water, electricity and cleaning of the public areas. The total cost of these amenities is more than RM40,000 a month.
In a month, there have been feet-dragging, uncertainty and indecision and this has resulted in a “you versus us” battle as residents are demanding more transparency and accountability from the council.
To add a drama to this saga, some politicians are backing the traders and are insisting the market be re-opened on Monday to “prevent the traders from suffering further losses.”
A pertinent question to ask: Are they representing the residents or the traders, some of whom are illegal?
The market is far from ready for occupation as a video taken on May 23 and produced by concerned residents show. One clip shows rats nibbling at chickens in cages and them running around the market despite five so-called clean-up exercises. Just hosing the market with water has not brought about the desired results.
Broken tiles have enabled rodents to burrow underground; layers of grime and grunge from years of neglect have formed over walkaways, and drains; and the absence of maintenance and the lack of enforcement of hygiene and cleanliness have made the market impossible for human occupation.
In an online petition, 13 residents’ associations say that that there is a long waiting list for the approximately 430 stalls, but not all are owner-occupied by locals.
“The foreign workers in the market claim that they pay around RM50 per day for the running their stalls. At RM50 per day, it appears that even the smaller traders can still sustain their business with a rental of RM1,500 per month.
“Why is MBPJ charging so little when many of them appear to be well established in the wholesale business, supplying to other markets in PJ?” the petition asks.
One resident quipped: “These rentals were fixed when salt was ten cents a kati or 15 cents for two!”
But plans to increase the rental have been opposed yet again – by politicians. The council should stop pandering to this group of people and do what is best for the residents – not the traders.
It should adopt a “take it or leave it” policy because demand outstrips supply in this instance. It would be better if an open and transparent system is introduced when it comes to the allocation of stalls. But the bottom line is that the middlemen and the Ali Baba system of doing business have to be weeded out.
As I had suggested in an earlier commentary, all stalls should be owner-operated. I had raised several issues related to enforcement of laws vis-à-vis hygiene and cleanliness and suggested that a new work order and systems should be put in place.
I wrote: “It must not remain an order on paper with no teeth. It should be supported by strict compliance, enforcement and punishment. It should be an order where no discretion is given to anyone (however high up he or she is) to bend or break the laws or dispense with procedures.
“It starts on the premise that the primary objective is to provide a conducive environment – safe and hygienic – to do one's marketing. For the trader, it will ensure his own safety, ease his system of doing business and practising a good regime that always draws customers.”
Whatever has been done during the past clean-up operations will come to nought if no fumigation is carried out to get rid of the rodents – once and for all. This must be followed with periodic checks and continuous cleaning and upgrading of all facilities.
The fingers are pointing to the council on the current bad state of affairs in the market. Its shortcomings are glaring – a reflection of its incompetence, its ineptness and its ineffectiveness in ensuring compliance with rules and regulations.
The residents’ associations have raised similar questions and the council has been unable to provide plausible answers because no one cared about the wet markets in the city.
There had been no cleaning schedule because the traders are supposed to clean their respective stalls and MBPJ’s contractor only cleans the “public areas”, which include the walkaways. But there had been no enforcement because the traders have been storing all kinds of food-related items in their stalls, providing an endless supply of food for pests.
The council had all this while closed a blind eye to undocumented foreign traders doing business. Those who came as stall assistants have taken over with arrangements with the traders and the consent of the council.
There have been passionate appeals (from politicians) to allow undocumented foreign workers to “assist the traders”. But if this is allowed, it’s back to square one.
The litany of inaction has been long and open-ended. The results are for all to see. Rightly, the residents’ associations are asking if the council had been aware of the long-standing complaints that had been made in the past about the market which includes:
  • Wet and slippery floors, broken tiles, poor drainage and infrequent cleaning;
  • The overpowering smell of rotting garbage/leachate due to infrequent collection and cleaning;
  • The sight of blood, feathers and innards at the section for slaughtering chicken;
  • Filthy and stagnant drains;
  • Illegal (and unsightly) stall extensions that protrude into the walkway for customers;
  • Haphazard parking by traders and customers; and
  • Rusted and dangerous railings in the stairwells.
While the council is ordering restaurants and eateries to close for lack of hygiene and cleanliness, it has paid scant attention to markets. Why have the market traders been treated differently? After all, they are operating a business and more so, selling food items. Shouldn’t food safety be top of the list?
Why then the lackadaisical stand? Is it because of vested interests that have led to little or no enforcement? Aren’t the council, the councillors and the management ashamed of the fact that their follies have resulted in them making the headlines for all the wrong reasons?
The entire market must be spotlessly clean – similar to those in Singapore or Australia – before it is allowed to re-open. There should be no excuses. Residents have endured without the market for more than a month and a few extra days will be acceptable.
The award-winning PJ City Council must set the benchmark. If need be, call out and expose the interfering and marauding politicians before they do further damage. This, of course, is not a tall order. It just requires the will and determination of people in power to correct all the wrongs of the past.

R NADESWARAN says the council must stand up to over-bearing politicians if they want to serve the people. Comments: citizen.nades22@gmail.com - Mkini

1 comment:

  1. The Pics above are all from the Section 17 newly relocated market .. NOT of the PJ Old town market...


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