I disagree with the comments made by the National Environment Agency (NEA). The new hawker centre model has failed badly (New hawker centre model needs tweaks, time to evolve; Oct 22).
As it has been NEA's duty to manage hawker centres on a truly not-for-profit basis from the 1960s, it is incongruous to expect profit-oriented private enterprises operating food courts to change the character of hawker centres.
The NEA has the ability, expertise, manpower and resources to carry out improvements to hawker centres diligently.
However, this new hawker centre model has obviously failed if we recall the written reply by Minister for the Environment and Water Resources Masagos Zulkifli to a parliamentary question on food prices in July.
He said that his ministry would deploy productivity measures, such as centralised dishwashing, automated tray return, and e-payment to assist stall holders with rising manpower costs, and that these initiatives would reduce the workload of hawkers and allow them to focus on food preparation and cooking.
However, this has not kept food prices down.
He also said that the ministry is committed to upholding the role of hawker centres as community dining rooms in both mature and new estates so that Singaporeans from all walks of life can enjoy food at affordable prices.
It is unrealistic to expect neighbourhood hawker centres selling simple food to be as popular as nightlife spots like Clarke Quay, or to operate 24/7.
If we agree that hawker centres are community dining rooms that provide affordable food and a means to make a decent livelihood for hawkers, then NEA should scrap the experiment and do what Mr Masagos said.
The key to encouraging the young into "hawker-preneurship" is low-cost entry, favourable contractual obligations and having the freedom to develop their talents.
Paul Chan Poh Hoi