It is illegal to hawk any kind of goods in a public place without a licence from the National Environment Agency. The rise in the number of illegal hawkers could be a side effect of the downturn. -- ST FILE PHOTO

Jan 31, 2009

1,623 caught last year, twice that of 2006; spike in complaints to Case too
By Jessica Lim
ILLEGAL hawkers are coming out of the woodwork in record numbers, with 1,623 caught last year.

This is twice the 881 booked in 2006, said the National Environment Agency (NEA).

These offenders range from scantily clad women hawking wine in carparks to middle-aged men selling everything from kitchen utensils to speakers from vans and youth hustling fake DVDs from makeshift stalls.

The leap in the number of offenders caught has coincided with a similar jump in the number of complaints to the Consumers Association of Singapore (Case) about their shoddy goods, pushy sales tactics and misleading claims.

A Straits Times check found some of these hawkers plying their wares in the late afternoon and evening in Serangoon Central; some operate from the backs of vehicles at the Sungei Road Thieves' Market, which has been declared off-limits to all vehicles.

When approached, most declined to be interviewed, hastily packed up and left.

The Straits Times recently uncovered wine peddlers operating in carparks in Paragon Shopping Mall, Ngee Ann City and Suntec City from about noon to 5pm daily, offloading bottles at between $30 and $100.

Singapore Polytechnic retail management lecturer Sarah Lim suggested that this burgeoning underground trade could be a side effect of the economic downturn.

She said: 'These hawking methods mean no rent and workers are paid on commission. Peddlers need not fork out money to start the business.'

She added that these instant businessmen resort to such methods especially when they are unable to obtain a licence.'

It is not easy getting one. Of the 122 people who applied for a street hawker licence last year, only 26 - or about one in five - got one.

To snag one, the applicant has to be a Singaporean citizen or permanent resident, aged 45 and above, who is unemployed or in financial difficulty.

An NEA spokesman said illegal hawkers are drawn into the trade because of the 'non-existent overheads' and because they have inferior foodstuff and sub-standard goods to offload.

But regardless of quality, it is illegal to hawk any kind of goods in a public place without an NEA licence, the spokesman added.

It is an offence to sell goods from the backs of vehicles, as has been recently reported to be happening. Exceptions are made for the approximately 400 ice-cream vendors who use motor-tricycles or vans, and car-boot sales held on privately owned land.

The penalty for illegal hawking is a fine of up to $1,000 for first-time offenders; a second conviction can bring a fine of up to $4,000 or jail time of up to three months or both.

Consumers have tales of bad experiences to tell: Insurance agent Rebecca Sim, 48, for example, said two men tried to sell her a set of speakers in a Chinatown carpark about six months ago.

Their pitch was that the speakers were 'worth a lot' but were going cheap because of a squabble these salesmen had with their boss. They even had 'identification cards' which they invited their potential customers to examine.

The icing on the deal: Free installation of the speakers.

Ms Sim said: 'I heard more such hawkers have been around lately. It is an invasion of privacy. They shove things in your face and you are not prepared to react. They normally approach people who are alone.'
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