Flexibility and common sense needed when enforcing laws against hawking

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 05 August, 2015, 1:30am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 05 August, 2015, 1:30am

With more than 28,000 convictions of unlicensed hawkers and related offences last year, the enforcement of such laws usually does not arouse much media interest. So when a court case involving such an offence becomes prominent news, something is clearly amiss. The story this time involved a 65-year-old man arrested for a transaction of HK$10 he had received for repairing a bicycle under a bridge in Sha Tin in June. He walked free on Wednesday, after the government dropped the charges of illegal hawking and causing an obstruction in the street.

Suen Tak-fui would not have been arrested and prosecuted had common sense prevailed. The retiree has been repairing bicycles, sometimes for free, for almost five years without trouble. The money in question was just for the components he bought for repair, he said. But officers from the Food and Environmental Hygiene Department were unconvinced. Although they reportedly allowed Suen to carry on with his repair work and only kept an eye nearby initially, they arrested him and confiscated his equipment after a bike owner handed him HK$10. As far as the law is concerned, Suen may be an illegal hawker. But given the retiree only makes HK$30 to HK$40 a day, his bike repair business is more a hobby that allows him to stay socially active. He said he enjoyed helping cyclists and did not want to live on benefits.

This is not the first time that the authorities have aroused concern with their actions. Under the existing strategy, enforcement and seizure usually come if a case involves a repeat offender or a serious breach of environmental hygiene. The court, therefore, expressed surprise at the seizure of Suen's equipment and rightly reminded the government of precedents. Stringent enforcement against illegal hawking is not wrong. But legislation aside, there needs to be flexibility and common sense. It would help if law enforcers could apply more of such qualities when discharging their duties.