More detailed cost comparison of new and old hawker centre models needed

Environment and Water Resources Minister Masagos Zulkifli and Senior Minister of State Amy Khor appeared to be desperately defending the concept of socially conscious enterprise hawker centres (SEHCs) in Parliament (Model for new hawker centres to be tweaked; and Three areas of focus to improve hawker centre model: Khor; both Nov 20).

It has been close to three years since the concept was introduced and given the recent uproar by both hawkers as well as the public, it is evident that this concept is inferior to the "old" hawker centres being managed by the National Environment Agency (NEA).

Dr Khor shared the median rental rates of both SEHCs and NEA managed hawker stalls and said that minus rent, operating costs between the two were comparable. What about the average (mean) rental between the two? Does the average rent tell a different story - foodcourts and private coffee shops not included?

The Government should also publish the average service and conservancy charges, table-cleaning fees and dish-washing charges between the SEHCs and NEA-managed hawker centres to provide a better comparison.

If indeed the SEHCs concept is viable, there is absolutely no need for NEA to co-fund the centralised dish-washing cost that was announced for the first two years.

I have visited the Pasir Ris Central SEHC a few times and while I'm impressed with the design of the place, I walked away with the feeling that this classier hawker centre concept cannot survive with the current cost structure that the hawkers have to face if they are selling a meal that costs around $5.

I also wonder how much the Government spent on the Pasir Ris Central hawker centre building and how it expects to recover the investment from SEHCs operators and within what time frame.

Phua Tiang Soon

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 22, 2018, with the headline 'More detailed cost comparison of new and old hawker centre models needed'. Print Edition | Subscribe