By THOMAS THAM
KOTA KINABALU: The last of the ‘cheap’ hawker food-stalls at the city’s iconic beach area, are hoping against hope that the powers that be behind the high-end Tanjung Aru Eco Development project, will have second thoughts.
It was a pathetic site at the Tanjung Aru Food Court Friday night, which for years served the local citizens and a fair amount of tourists, with all sorts of food and drink as well as tid bits.
Only a handful of stalls remained open and the dining area was lighted up by electricity from small gen-sets after City Hall mercilessly removed its tables and chairs on Thursday, and disconnected power supply 24 hours later, completely ignoring the pleas of the vendors there; some who had been doing business since the early 60s.
It was simply pathetic and heart-wrenching.
Earlier Friday morning, a small group of vendors called on Joannes Solidau, the director-general of City Hall in the hope that there would be a last-minute reprieve.
Typical of a civil servant, Solidau told the group as well as several Parti Warisan Sabah leaders who had accompanied them that he would convey their appeal to the Mayor, and that he could not promise anything.
The Mayor was busy elsewhere rubbing shoulders with the who’s who, who were invited to grace events in the State capital officiated by none other than the Prime Minister. Ironically, the Prime Minister was touted as among those behind the ambitious TAED project.
With the fixtures removed, the electricity cut and sanitation options which even animals would not want to enter, that’s closed the book on the Tanjung Aru Food Court.
It looks like Victor Paul, the head honcho of TAED is a man in a hurry, but with hundreds of acres of land to start his ambitious project, stretching from the fences surrounding Kota Kinabalu International Airport, one wonders why he needs to chase out local people making an honest living.
After all, the food court could have easily provided food for the hundreds of workers that would surely be engaged for the project. And when a suitable alternative food court is made available, in a year or two, the hawkers would surely no longer complain as they would have had ample time to do what’s necessary.
To be fair to City Hall, notice had been served on the 60 odd vendors that their new site would be next to Anjung Selera in Likas. Anjung Selera itself is undergoing redevelopment as it is run down after all these years.
So why would Gariman, whose dad used to sell young coconuts at the beachfront, taking over from his father who first started the stall, as well as the dozens of others be unhappy to move to Likas.
1. The site is not 100 per cent complete as works are still in progress;
2. The stalls are too small, especially for those serving cooked food;
3. The open dining area where customers can sit and eat or drink is merely a quarter of the original space;
4. Safety concerns and too far;
5. Lack of parking; and
6. Competition when Anjung Selera reopens.
The type of food and drink that would be served at the new site would not go down well with customers, unlike the beachfront at Tanjung Aru. Furthermore, the keropok, lekor, steamed groundnuts, sweet corn and drinks would be picked by people opting to walk along the beachfront.
The vendors had approached Junz Wong, the Likas Assemblyman to help them out when their own legislator was nowhere to be seen. Junz roped in Terrence Siambun, his Moyog colleague, who is coordinator of the Putatan Division of their party (as Tanjung Aru comes under Putatan).
On Thursday afternoon, at the first hint of trouble, Terrence tried to call the Mayor, but his calls as well as Whatsapp messages when unanswered.
“This is really inhumane,” lamented Terrence. “You chase away the hawkers from here but the alternative site is not even completed. How do they do their business.
“Is this the government whose slogan is “Rakyat didahulukan” (People First). Yes, rich and powerful people first, while the rest get third class treatment.”
“The hawkers are not resisting the move,” chipped in Junz. “All they are asking is for more time, perhaps till after Hari Raya, before they move. After all, they cannot do business at the Likas venue just yet.
“On humanitarian grounds alone, the Mayor and City Hall could have given in to the vendors’ plea. And at the same time, listen to their complaints on the new site and make the necessary rectifications and adjustments.”
On Friday, Said Nonong, who acted as spokesperson for the hawkers went to City Hall in the hope of meeting the Mayor to present their case. All they met was Solidau and a few other City Hall officers; none of them were willing to make an on-the-spot decision, to ease the case of the affected hawkers.
When told that the popular food court was to be demolished, Moothan, a long-term Tanjung Aru resident recalled the carefree days when picnics was the order of the day come weekends and public/school holidays.
He talked of the sweet pungent smell of dried squid hammered down to perfection by the Chinese vendor, and the young coconut man who sold his fleshy green nuts at just a Ringgit for one.
Once work begins, even the much-loved beachfront, will be out-of-bounds to the ordinary man as well as the tourists who love to watch the stunning sunsets.
Who knows, despite the promises, once the development is over, only the rich and famous will have access to a public icon that rings memories to thousands of Sabahans.