Bentong hawkers: We’ll back whoever can help us

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BENTONG — Stall operators at the Medan Selera Kampong Baru dropped broad hints of their dissatisfaction with an unresolved problem here, saying they were keen to discuss the matter with their “newly elected” lawmaker after the polls — whoever that may be.

Sensing that election fever is here, the group told Malay Mail they simply wanted a minor road adjustment to be undone.

Nasi Ayam Hainan Salbiah owner Dzulkarnain Abdul Ghani, 50, said 26 stall owners had petitioned the authorities last year to review the decision to remove a crucial entry way to the food court, but to no avail.

“All of us signed a petition addressed to the state government, our MP, the menteri besar, the district councillor and the Pahang Works Departments,” he said.

“That letter was signed and submitted on March 13, but we have not heard anything since then — from anyone.”

The incumbent Bentong MP is Datuk Seri Liow Tiong Lai, who is also the MCA president.

Dzulkarnain said MCA had contacted him once after they submitted the petition to confirm a few details, but had not been in touch again since.

In remarks suggesting the negotiable nature of their support, he pointedly noted that Liow was among the addressees of the petition.

“But it seems he has not looked into the matter,” he said.

Dzulkarnain, who inherited the business from his father, said patrons heading to Raub or Kuala Lipis were once able to enter the food court’s compound via a nearby interchange.

This has since been removed, and the same patrons must now head towards Bentong town and make a U-turn to reach the food court that they can see, but not without making the detour.

“With traffic congestion already an issue, they simply cannot afford to make the extended trip just for a meal and usually decide to dine in town,” he said.

Business has been badly affected as only those returning to the Karak Highway find it convenient enough to stop by, he said.

Some operators have already given up as patronage has fallen to unsustainable levels.

While he has chosen to remain, Dzulkarnain said, his heart aches each day when he shows up for work.

“The shuttered shops are a painful reminder of our current plight and all we want is to make an honest living,” he said.

“We certainly hope that with the upcoming general election, our newly elected representative — be it Liow or whoever — will be able to look into the matter because it has been long overdue.”

Built in 1998, Medan Selera Kampung Baru, situated along Jalan Ketari and facing Sungai Bentung, was one of the earliest rest-and-recuperation stops in Bentong and prospered due to its strategic location and variety of local cuisine.

During Malay Mail’s visit, only a handful of hawkers remained open, chairs and tables were few, while patrons were fewer still.

Gerai Kwang Sai caretaker Chan Sai Peng, 58, said they would love it if Liow could intervene now, but added that he did not want to distract him from his full schedule ahead of the elections.

Like Dzulkarnain, however, he indicated that his support was negotiable.

“I would definitely vote for someone who could solve our problems, regardless of the party they’re contesting for,” he said.

Chan said his business was down by more than a third, and the area was missing out on the many travellers who used to stop there for a meal.

“I have worked here for about 10 years, and during its heyday, it was busy with tour buses … even football fans travelling to Kelantan had their meals here,” he said.

For now, however, all he holds on to are memories and the hope that Liow — or whoever wins in Bentong — will listen to their pleas.

Liow, the MP for five terms, is expected to be challenged by DAP’s Wong Tack, an environmental activist who made his name opposing a rare-earth processing facility in nearby Kuantan.