NEA’s curry puff bust

By Gunther Wong

NEA is one badass outfit. Check out their latest bust – a woman ended up in jail for being a part of a curry puff syndicate.

A while back, they arrested foreign workers who raided unlicensed barber stalls for other foreign workers.

All that while checking on construction noise, food stall hygiene and home mosquito breeding.

MOM’s inspections of poorly maintained dormitories and pasar-malam raids seem to pale in comparison, as does SPRING’s enforcement against unsafe storage of fuel and use of portable gas cookers at steamboat restaurants.

But seriously, curry puff syndicates? Really? Well, I don’t blame the NEA for doing what they did.

If you’ve been to Mumbai, India and eaten there, you’d know of this thing called “Bombay belly”. No, I’m not referring to the waistlines of the city policemen. I’m talking about getting diarrhea so bad that shitting by the roadside seems a perfectly reasonable thing to do.

In Singapore, we don’t have that problem (I’m referring to food poisoning, not shitting by the roadside – the latter does occur from time to time).

Tourists coming in from overseas don’t worry about Sg Lao Sai or something like that. They worry more about getting ripped off at Sim Lim or getting touted at Newton (also an NEA issue).

NEA’s mandate is a clear and broad one. Anything that affects the environmental health of Singapore comes under their purview, including the production of curry puffs. So when I read of the case involving Robiah Lia Caniago who was convicted of turning a two-room rental flat into a curry puff factory, I was glad they stepped in. I’ve eaten curry puffs and otak-otak from both roadside sellers and licensed food stalls, and I’d like to think that they were clean.

I’m a bit disturbed by the fact that we, as a country, did little to help this enterprising lady find a better way to manufacture and distribute her curry puffs. Obviously she was trying to support herself and didn’t want to rely on government handouts. She wasn’t “puffing” to get rich. She just wanted to survive. Could more have been done to help her?

I recall that a particular food establishment in Singapore once started out operating from an HDB flat as well. But the Government officers at the time were helpful and showed the family how to go about operating legally. That business has survived. Maybe Madam Robiah should have received the same assistance.

Then there are the home businesses that manufacture food for commercial sale. Some of these home businesses have a clean kitchen. Would they get a bad reputation just because of Madam Robiah’s actions? I sure hope not.

All in, NEA did the right thing, but the Government could have done more to make the best of the situation.

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