Allow hawkers to run stalls their way

Allowing existing hawkers to bid for vacant stalls without penalty is the right thing to do ("Falling rents? Existing hawkers can bid for vacant stalls"; Aug 8).

The National Environment Agency (NEA) needs to appreciate that the hawker industry is an essential social service that should not be subject to free market concepts.

Its priority should be to preserve Singapore's unique culture of hawker fare by maintaining reasonable rental structures and, by extension, raising the income level and public profile of the hawker community.

Low rental and ingredient costs are key to affordable hawker food.

Supermarket conglomerates like FairPrice and Cold Storage should assist hawkers by offering special bulk discounts, as part of their corporate social responsibility.

I do not understand why the NEA needs managing agents.

Compared to a government entity bound by state obligations, independent managing agents have less incentive and clout to negotiate terms favourable to their tenants in areas such as utility costs and rentals.

The addition of a middleman further complicates the role of the NEA, limiting the amount of oversight that the agency can exercise over hawker centres to ensure that standards of service are maintained and socio-economic objectives are met.

Given that the hawker industry largely comprises self-employed individuals, it is surely up to them to determine their own hours that would produce the best results individually, rather than by fiat.

It is no wonder that NTUC Foodfare has come under criticism for its imposition of commercial conditions on stallholders, such as a 12-hour daily work rule and limitations on the number of days off tenants can take.

The best policy is to leave hawkers to run their business according to their own entrepreneurial flair, while the NEA retains its present role, focusing on enforcement of hygiene and cleanliness regulations, as well as monitoring food quality.

Paul Chan Poh Hoi

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 17, 2015, with the headline 'Allow hawkers to run stalls their way'. Print Edition | Subscribe