What financial model is 'social enterprise' hawker centre following?

When I read that social enterprises were running hawker centres, I wondered if someone had confused them with quangos, or Quasi-Autonomous Non-Governmental Organisations.

According to Britain's national body for social enterprises, a social enterprise makes its money from selling goods and services, covers its own costs in the long-term, puts at least half of any profits back into making a difference and pays reasonable salaries to its staff.

Quangos, on the other hand, are organisations that are funded by taxpayers but not controlled directly by the central government, as defined by the BBC.

There is, thus, no accountability to the taxpayers, because quangos are not controlled by a government body. If things go wrong, it is not the fault of the government.

Thus, I was mystified when I read of hawker centres being run by social enterprises.

Which model of financial governance are they following?

Are at least half the profits ploughed back to the hawkers and associated staff, or directed to other social causes? Or are the profits solely to feed the well-heeled and well-placed owners?

Unlike charities, social enterprises are not required to run annual general meetings, where their finances can be publicly scrutinised.

I have stopped supporting charities whose chief executives are paid salaries several times that of the British Prime Minister. But at least their salaries are published and I can make that choice.

Social enterprises, on their other hand, as privately run companies, are not required to disclose these details.

Will the real social enterprises please stand up?

Lee Siew Peng (Dr)

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 27, 2018, with the headline 'What financial model is 'social enterprise' hawker centre following?'. Print Edition | Subscribe