My Take

For once, government would do well by doing nothing

Officials should turn a blind eye to illegal hawkers during Lunar New Year, rather than risk another riot like the one in Mong Kok in February

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 22 November, 2016, 1:44am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 22 November, 2016, 2:29am

Our government has an uncanny ability to create trouble for itself. The latest is a proposal to set up a food bazaar for hawkers during the upcoming Lunar New Year in Mong Kok.

Food and health chief Ko Wing-man has denied the plan is to pre-empt disturbance in light of the Mong Kok riot in February. Whatever you say, Dr Ko.

Predictably, neighbours and their district council representatives are up in arms against the plan.

The Yau Tsim Mong District Council has consulted building owners’ corporations as well as residents of 10 buildings near Macpherson Playground – the proposed location of the bazaar. All of them oppose the plan as they fear excessive noise well into the night. It’s hard to see how the government plan would work. The idea is to accommodate 40 hawkers at a single location from January 28 to 30. But they can’t use fire to cook food, only electric cooking devices. That might be difficult.

Every year during the Lunar New Year festivities, many hawkers ply their trade. What about those who work outside the playground, as there are bound to be many? Do hygiene inspectors crack down on them, thereby risking another riot?

Minister denies legalising street food stalls during Lunar New Year due to Hong Kong riots

In the past, inspectors had turned a blind eye to hawkers who lined the streets of Mong Kok and Sham Shui Po during that period. For some reason, the government decided to crack down this year.

But while the initial disturbance in February had to do with disputes between inspectors and illegal hawkers, the subsequent mayhem had nothing to do with hawkers’ rights. It was an anti-government riot, a repeat of the 2014 Occupy movement’s confrontation with the police.

It was too bad that the government and pro-establishment lawmakers rejected a proposal by pan-democrats to form a commission to look into the real causes of the riot. That might have given the government genuine insights into widespread social discontent, especially among the young. It would also be a good opportunity for people to air their grievances and for us to listen.

The latest government plan for hawkers is counterproductive as it has already upset many residents in the district. Here’s some free advice. Do what you have always done: nothing. Take it easy on hawkers once a year. Then everyone is happy.