NEA reviewing not-for-profit hawker centres

It is looking into contractual agreements of operators: Amy Khor

The not-for-profit model was piloted about three years ago to address challenges of the hawker trade and to test innovative practices.
The not-for-profit model was piloted about three years ago to address challenges of the hawker trade and to test innovative practices. ST FILE PHOTO

The National Environment Agency (NEA) will do a "stock take" of the not-for-profit hawker centre model, which allows social enterprises and cooperatives to run these centres, said Senior Minister of State for the Environment and Water Resources Amy Khor.

The NEA has also been asked to quickly iron out problems related to cost and contractual terms used by these operators, she wrote in a Facebook post yesterday.

Dr Khor said the NEA is already reviewing the contractual agreements with a view to prescribing some of the terms used by operators in these contracts.

Her comments came in the wake of complaints from hawkers at these not-for-profit centres about high rents and being saddled with additional fees for services such as tray returns.

"We hear the concerns raised... NEA will not hesitate to take operators to task if they are found to be errant," said Dr Khor, who is also Senior Minister of State for Health.

Not-for-profit hawker centres came under the spotlight in late August when food critic and Makansutra founder K. F. Seetoh claimed they were being run like "a hard-core commercial foodcourt management system".

Tenants at Jurong West Hawker Centre also submitted a petition in August to its operator, Hawker Management - a subsidiary of food centre operator Koufu - complaining about a scheme in which they had to pay customers 20 cents each time a tray was returned.

This was resolved on Thursday after the operator agreed to charge customers a 20-cent deposit for the use of a tray, which is refunded when the tray is returned.

Dr Khor said in her post that the not-for-profit model, piloted about three years ago, was intended to address challenges faced by the hawker trade, such as manpower constraints, and try out innovative practices while meeting the evolving dining needs of residents.

At the same time, the authorities set controls on food prices. Operators whose bids offered the lowest total cost to stallholders were assessed more favourably, and rentals cannot be raised during the tenancy period "to ensure that Singaporeans continue to have access to affordable food... and that our hawkers can earn a decent living", she added.

Currently, seven out of 114 hawker centres are new centres managed by private social enterprises and cooperatives.

Describing the stock take as a "good step forward", Mr Seetoh said he hoped it "will involve taking a closer look at the contracts issued by the socially conscious operators" to see if they do push the aim of helping new hawkers. "I hope the authorities will work more closely with the community... I am sure there are many people out there with good ideas about how to manage and encourage a new generation of hawkers."

• Additional reporting by Benson Ang

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 20, 2018, with the headline NEA reviewing not-for-profit hawker centres. Subscribe