Hawkers angry at 'ridiculous' treatment
Mong Kok stallholders hit back at hawker control officers yesterday for what they say is overly strict enforcement of regulations in the wake of last week's fire that killed nine people and injured 34.
Tensions ran high at Fa Yuen Street when officers from the Food and Environmental Hygiene Department tried to confiscate goods at two stalls where vendors held only helper's licences and the stall licence-holders were absent. Goods cannot be sold if the holder of the stall licence is not present according to the policy.
A department spokesman confirmed it sent officers to the market and three people were prosecuted.
Hawkers said the rule had never been enforced before. 'In all my 20 years of selling goods here, I've never seen this happen before,' hawker King Li Lok-wai said. 'Does this mean that when [the licence-holder] goes to the toilet, their helpers have to stop selling? That's ridiculous.'
Stall sizes were also under scrutiny, with 11 hawkers - three of them on Fa Yuen Street - prosecuted for violating the rules. Much of the blame for last Wednesday's fire has been placed on the hawkers, since market stalls were the first to catch fire. Calls for tighter control include a push to dismantle the stalls after hours.
But Li said subdivided flats were just as dangerous. 'I feel like we have been made scapegoats. Subdivided flats are just as deadly. People were trapped up there. Why are we taking all the blame?'
Li Hin, who sells socks and towels on Tai Yuen Street, Wan Chai, said the stipulated stall size - three feet long, four feet wide and 2.5 metres high - was outdated and too small. Li rents a subdivided flat for storage.
Wong Wai-chuen, chairman of the Association of North Point Merchant and Hawkers, said it had issued a reminder to members to make sure their stalls fit the stated dimensions.
There are 6,500 fixed market stalls in the city, mostly in 30 streets in Eastern, Wan Chai, Central and Western, Yau Tsim Mong, Mong Kok, Sham Shui Po and Kowloon City. Of these, 1,100 are licensed with a condition to dismantle their stalls every night, including those in Tung Choi Street, where the policy began in 1982, and Temple Street. But 3,400 are exempt and can store goods in a small hut in the stall area.