New hawker centre model tries to balance competing interests

We thank Mr Lim Tong Wah and Mr Seah Yam Meng for their letters (Study reasons for unhappiness with new model; and Time to learn lessons and put things right; both published on Oct 20).

In 2012, when the Government resumed the building of hawker centres after a close to 30-year hiatus, the National Environment Agency (NEA) sought a management model that prioritises consumers' needs - such as food affordability, availability and a clean environment - while balancing the sustainability of the hawker trade in terms of profitability and addressing unattractive working conditions.

The socially conscious enterprise model is a recommendation, after extensive consultations, to inject something different in our approach to balance these competing interests.

The aim is to leverage the expertise of socially conscious enterprise operators in food and beverage, property and lease management, and introduce new and innovative ideas to achieve the social mission of hawker centres on a not-for-profit basis.

Besides offering affordable food in a clean environment, the operators are required to implement initiatives to enhance the vibrancy of the centre and sustain the hawker trade. These include measures to increase footfall, the curation of food mix, introducing famous food recipes and hawker mentorship programmes.

As pointed out by Mr Lim, there is an inherent trade-off between food prices and hawkers' profits.

NEA seeks to achieve a balance by requiring the hawker to serve an affordably priced food option while favouring centre operators with a lower total cost to stallholders.

Operators are also not allowed to vary the charges to stallholders at any time during the tenancy term.

We agree with Mr Lim that some hawkers are able to be profitable after accounting for rentals, and hence, besides cost, footfall and patronage at hawker centres are equally important.

Indeed, hawker centres in good locations like Kampung Admiralty and Our Tampines Hub are doing well. NEA will continue to plan for future hawker centres with good locations and connectivity to benefit both hawkers and consumers.

Mr Seah cited the Sports Hub as a private-public partnership that has met with problems.

The hawker centres run by socially conscious enterprise operators are pilot projects, and form seven out of 114 hawker centres in Singapore. They have brought some benefits but there are also areas that need to be reviewed and improved, which we are doing as part of the stock take of the management model.

Ivy Ong (Ms)

Director, Hawker Centres Division

National Environment Agency

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 25, 2018, with the headline 'New hawker centre model tries to balance competing interests'. Print Edition | Subscribe