Reform needed in hawker industry

Hawkers should be at the centre of their industry, working with NEA by participating in the policymaking process.
Hawkers should be at the centre of their industry, working with NEA by participating in the policymaking process.PHOTO: ST FILE

I support opinion editor Chua Mui Hoong's view that going back to basics is the right approach to preserve and enhance hawker culture (Put hawkers first in the #OurHawkerCulture debate, Feb 3).

The new road map for hawker centres should begin with the National Environment Agency (NEA).

NEA should remain the sole non-profit government department overseeing our hawker centres and, by extension, safeguarding the interests of 14,000 hawkers and their families.

Social enterprises and other profit-seeking entities are merely superfluous middlemen.

Their involvement brings little unique benefit to hawkers and end consumers, and is nothing that an NEA-led system cannot also deliver.

Moreover, if we accept hawkers as micro-entrepreneurs, we should accord them the rightful status and respect. They should be at the centre of their industry, working with NEA by participating in the policymaking process.

There is no need to share profits with third-party operators.

Given the importance of rental and ancillary charges to hawkers' margins, the fairest approach for all parties would be to peg these at a minimal baseline rate, combined with an additional levy based on monthly profits.

Such a profit-sharing scheme would provide ease of mind to stallholders, while lowering the barriers to entry for younger hawkers.

Just as Singapore underwent its transformation from Third World to First, so too must our hawker centres. Urgent reform is necessary to safeguard the future of our community dining rooms.

Paul Chan Poh Hoi

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 15, 2019, with the headline 'Reform needed in hawker industry'. Print Edition | Subscribe