Masjid India traders back claims of rent-seeking by ‘Pakatan’ members

Kenneth Tee
Muhammad Arif (third from right) speaks to a trader during a walkabout in Masjid India, Kuala Lumpur June 14, 2018. — Picture by Azinuddin Ghazali

KUALA LUMPUR, June 14 — Several traders at Jalan Masjid India here claimed people dressed as Pakatan Harapan members demanded inflated fees to ensure that lot allocations for a Ramadan bazaar were not revoked.

During a walkabout organised by PKR Youth Setiawangsa Treasurer Muhammad Arif Safruddin today, the traders expressed anger and disappointment over the demand for up for 56 times the official rental rates stated by Kuala Lumpur City Hall (DBKL).

Muhammad Arif said he took the initiative to gather evidence from affected traders to be presented to the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC), after Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia (PPBM) Youth chief Syed Saddiq Syed Abdul Rahman released a statement earlier regarding the alleged abuse of power by a local party member.

“In the police report I lodged on Sunday, I met with the leader of the group going around demanding payment from the traders after I received a tip-off from my relative who was one of the victim.

“When I asked their leader, an individual by the name of Man Berong, to produce a letter of authority giving them the rights to collect the rental fees, they could not produce such documents and instead threatened the traders who refused to pay,” he told Malay Mail.

Earlier today, a letter purportedly sent by DBKL informing a Federal Territories Bersatu Youth member of his successful application for 80 lots at the bazaar was circulated online.

Clothes trader Rafidah Mohd Noor, 41 said a group of individuals wearing red shirts commonly associated with PPBM came last Saturday to demand another RM3,000 for her to remain at her present lot.

“I straight up protested saying it was not fair because I paid RM4,000 for the period of four weeks before Ramadan to secure the trading spot and cover my capital within the entire period,” she told Malay Mail.

Rafidah said the same group of five people then returned on Tuesday and reduced their demand to RM2,000 for three days until Friday.

This time, Rafidah caved and paid them off.

“I had to take it because I needed to clear my stock and continue my business,” she said, adding that no proof of payment was issued by the group who simply showed her a copied letter when she asked for evidence that they were authorised to collect such payments.

Biscuit trader Siti Suraini Ishak, 50, said regular traders were familiar with such rent-seekers who customarily control blocs of rental lots.

She similarly described the group as dressed in red shirts and alleged that they threatened to rescind her lot allocation unless paid.

Commenting on the purported letter circulating online, she said she believed it to be authentic given the way the syndicate was operating and added suspicions of collusion within City Hall.

“I hope the mayor looks into these unscrupulous acts perpetrated by unknown individuals,” she said.

Trader Elly Suraya, 37, said the group demanded RM 4,500 in cash last Thursday for a covered lot at the bazaar.

She said she pleaded for this to be reduced to RM1,500 on Tuesday, saying she had no choice but to pay in order to avoid being saddled with unsold stock.

Elly, who also was not given any receipt, questioned why a middleman was able to secure blocs of lots at the bazaar.

“Who is this guy that DBKL must bow their heads to him?”

She added that most traders paid out of fear that the person may in fact have the influence to harm their business.

Wisma Yakin traders representative Nabil Mohamed Amin, 32, said the size of the bazaar this year was suspicious and disruptive to the businesses blocked by the lots.

He said that while he was not against people earning a living, Nabil said the location was inconvenient to permanent traders here.

“Our president Datuk Maideen Kadir Shah has also met with DBKL two months before Ramadan to present our findings for the past five years but until now it is still in discussion,” he said when voicing suspicions of outside interference.

PKR Youth Setiawangsa vice-chiefs Ammar Shahbana and M. Danaeshwar, who were both present during the walkabout, said the party received reports by members who claimed third parties demanded payment several times higher than usual to ensure their trading lot remain secured throughout the bazaar period.

Both said the matter must urgently be addressed as it implicated PH.

Adding that they knew the DBKL officer who approved the permits, they said it was unlikely the person would have dared to do so unless he has political protection.

“DBKL must provide an immediate explanation as to why did they approve 80 Ramadan bazaar lots under a single individual’s name,” both said.

The group gave DBKL until the end of the month to explain the allegation.