Reviving hawkers

PUBLISHED : Friday, 24 April, 1998, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 24 April, 1998, 12:00am

Street hawkers are a popular sight, popular among the tourists who flock to Temple Street for a more authentic shopping experience than is possible in any department store. And popular among the residents who patronise the unlicensed hawkers that cluster around MTR stations in the evening, offering a cheap and convenient source of food.

Such activities provide a living for thousands of often uneducated workers who find it difficult to take on any other job. During the current economic slowdown, it is inevitable their numbers will increase, as some of the jobless seek to support themselves in this way.

The problem is that a combination of the rapid pace of redevelopment and tight Urban and Regional Council restrictions have curtailed the opportunities for legitimate hawkers and left many with no option but to take their chances without a licence.

Night markets which were popular with tourists have been demolished to make way for more office blocks: the last thing the SAR needs when it is desperate for new attractions to boost the tourism industry. Other hawkers have been driven off the streets by the municipal councils, despite taking their case to the Privy Council in London.

The result has been a proliferation of unlicensed hawkers, causing congestion in many areas, and prompting health and safety concerns. That problem can only increase in coming months, unless there is a change of stance by the municipal councils.

Rather than hounding hawkers it would be more sensible to facilitate the creation of additional night markets where they could safely sell their wares.

There are no shortage of sites available: with the vacant Tamar Basin reclamation having been widely suggested as one potential location. But such sites will have to be conveniently located if hawkers are to be tempted away from outside MTR stations.

It will also require a more positive attitude than has been evident from municipal councils so far. Hawkers are an asset rather than a liability for Hong Kong and it is high time this was recognised.