Cow Beh Cow Bu

How to Have Affordable Hawker Food when the Government is Jacking Up Costs for Stallholders?

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said during this year’s National Day Rally that the government will help Singaporeans to manage the cost of eating out by building more hawker centres.

He added that “when we tender out the hawker centres, we do not assess bids just on their tender price alone but also whether the operators can offer affordable options.”

Stalls at 13 of the new hawker centres being built are supposed to “offer at least one economical meal option, priced at S$3 or less” so that food choices are “affordable”.

Does PM Lee Hsien Loong know what is going on on the ground or has he been burying his head in a bowl of mee siam without cockles for the past decade?

Let’s take a look at the NEA-operated hawker centre, Chomp Chomp, in Serangoon Gardens.

Recently, the rent for stall #01-22 secured with a S$10,028 bid. The next highest bid – S$4018, with the rest of the bids averaging about S$3000.

This is a hawker centre operated by the government, not a private operator.

To break even, the hawker uncle has to sell 3400 plates of S$3 char kway teow a month, or 113 plates a day assuming he doesn’t take off to attend the 2019 National Day Rally.

That’s not including cleaner fees, maintenance fees, and dishwashing fees.

Okay, maybe atas places command atas prices (even for government-operated hawker centres).

How about Social Enterprise Hawker Centres, that are started by the government and mandate that stallholders make at least one dish “affordable”?

Stallholders pay an average of S$4000 for their space – higher than the rent for a stall at Maxwell Road Food Centre.

To quote local food guru KF Seetoh:

“The shocking facts, (just some) seen in some of the contracts, include compulsory payments for
“coin changing service”,

a Gross Turnover Profit percentage (they take a percentage of your overall takings each month or basic rents, whichever is higher),

separate charges for crockery washing, collection and return (despite efforts and cost to facilitate self tray-return)

and this brazen clause (see image) that hawkers pay the management $600 a month to have them spot check their food quality and operation ( in short, charge the hawkers to do what they naturally do anyway). As if they know better than the hawkers how to cook and operate.
They also have monetary penalties like in a food court model for closures and they are expected to open 8-12 hours a day (minus preparation time). The law only allow people to work up to 12 hours a day. The old NEA hawker centres will allow emergency closures like for health, religious holidays and personal issues, just let them know.”

Again, we’re talking about government-operated hawker centres – not food courts, kopitiams and other hawker centres operated by private firms.

So, how does the government expect hawkers to survive without raising prices beyond the government’s benchmark of “affordable”?

It doesn’t rein in high bids during the balloting process, and inserts hidden costs into contracts with stallholders.

The Singapore government has pushed for hawker culture to be included in Unesco’s Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.

Will the government be the one to destroy hawker culture?



Click to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

To Top