Federal Territories Minister Tengku Adnan Tengku Mansor was recently reported to have announced that all roadside traders operating in Federal Territories will be required to operate from designated premises or food trucks by 2020. Vendors in designated premises are also expected to prepare and cook the food elsewhere before selling them on the premises.
The minister has been pushing for this change since 2015, believing that this method of business to be more efficient, cleaner and mobile. Unfortunately, this statement is reflective of the minister’s perspective of roadside food stalls and their traders, and what he thinks of them.
Roadside food stalls are a symbolic representation of Asian culture and a key attraction to foreign tourists. It contributes to our economy and provides cheap and freshly-prepared Malaysian food indiscriminately. Most of us have and still do start our day by buying breakfast at a roadside stall. It is a core component at the heart of our culture and should be viewed as a strength, not a weakness.
This is not an issue that can be addressed without taking into account the input and perspectives of roadside stall entrepreneurs themselves, and how such proposals will affect them.
The impact of shutting such stalls would have adverse consequences on the livelihoods of roadside food entrepreneurs in the Federal Territories. The current plans to address these consequences are insufficient to attenuate repercussions from this proposed action.
The majority of roadside food entrepreneurs are from the lower income group or the B40, in Malaysia. With their limited resources and time, running roadside food stalls is one of the few available options to increase household income. This is due to it being simple, flexible and convenient to being able to quickly set up and run a stall with minimal cost. You just need a table to display the food, an umbrella to ward off the sun and rain, and maybe a chair.
Taking away this convenience and the ease of doing such small scale businesses, deprives a person from a lower income household to improve their financial situation and contribute towards economic stability.
The proposal to move roadside vendors to food trucks is unrealistic and could actually harm lower income households. While the government reassures that a grant of RM10,000 would be provided to assist transition, it is insufficient to cover the initial cost of purchasing a food truck and subsequent costs to run it, which would initially cost at least RM60,000.
The price of the food being sold would undoubtedly be increased to cover the cost of additional overheads. It would definitely lead to such food being more expensive and no longer attractive to cost conscious customers
As the majority of vendors are likely to be from the lower income group, many would need to apply for loans in order to purchase a food truck. They would first have to overcome the hurdle of obtaining a small business or personal loan from the bank. Approval is not guaranteed. Even if one does secure a loan, it could potentially be more of a burden, incur more household debt and threaten financial security and stability.
Selling roadside food from allocated premises is also potentially problematic. A key strength to roadside food stalls is that the food can be freshly prepared on the spot such as fried bananas, keropok lekor or char kuey teow. By deciding that food be prepared elsewhere, such food would be less appetising, cold and unattractive.
These proposals would actual result in a decline in revenue for roadside food entrepreneurs.
Roadside food stalls are one of the few means for B40 households to increase or supplement their main source of income and contribute towards financial stability.
Requiring such stalls to operate from food trucks and allocated premises strips would have devastating consequences to those who depend on the convenience and informal nature of these businesses.
The Federal Territories Ministry should speak to the entrepreneurs running roadside food stalls. Listen, respect and understand their hardships and challenges, gauge their capacity in running businesses from food trucks or allocated premises, and act accordingly. Doing otherwise would bring harm to the lives of these entrepreneurs and their families, and jeopardise a vital segment of the informal economy.