By Mohamed Kassim
I would like to applaud the new rethink on our often taken for granted and unrecognized culinary gems of Singaporean Hawkers – Local Hawker Food.
The new initiative and crusade lead by Respected Food Critic KF Seetoh Of Makansutra Asia Fame who is pushing to preserve local hawker cuisine and hawker trade with a new drive to encourage retiring hawkers to pass the trade and train new generations of hawkers is good.
Even recently a government initiative under entrepreneur Elim Chew was initiated to find out how to recognize , celebrate and award often forgotten Hawkers and their hawker food versus new top range chefs and Michelin type high end dining which only normally gets the cream of attention in Singapore.
Dr Vivian Balakrishnan being the Minister For Environment, and the person directly in charge of the Hawkers via National Environment Agency (NEA) which manages the segment, told media that he will champion the hawker cause and hope to find new ideas and ways to encourage Singaporeans to take up hawker trade as more than 10 hawker centres are to be built in Singapore.
Dr Vivian Balakrishnan claimed the Singapore Hawker Trade is exclusively for Singaporeans (which we yet to confirm) and a big challenge that Singapore is facing is that most of retiring hawkers do not have a younger generation of Singaporeans taking up the trade.
Well if that is the drive, Singaporeans & Singapore Government Should Support Hawker Trade as Singaporean Entreprenuers with due recognition and government especially “Walk The Talk” with real action and money to show it’s sincere push to develop it.
One of the most cited concern by many hawkers is the current expiring old lease of hawker centres under NEA that is set to impact the majority of hawkers in Singapore.
Rents would need to be realistic and not only profit focused or orientated to encourage new hawker entrepreneurs to set-up and existing ones to survive with current high inflation, cost of living and business operational costs.
NEA with Minister Balakrishnan need to rethink hawker centres and stalls and not view exclusively as another source of continued profitable revenue for government but as a national trade for Singaporean entreprenuers .
Exorbitant tenders of major hawker centres or designated sites which was the chosen model by Singapore Govt, HDB and NEA to push for privatized hawker centres as managed by more private operators need to stop.
A major failure case study model can be the example of Sengkang Kopitiam Square in Sengkang which was the 1st largest and privately built and run hawker centre with wet market under public tender-won by Kopitiam subsidiary linked group at record high price.
Minister Vivian Balakrishnan should push a government funded initiative of a possible “ Hawker Entreprenuer Start-up Fund” to assist suitable young hawkers get started in the business with some rules and caveat.
Such a fund could encourage more younger people to take the hawker trade more seriously and offset start-up costs in today’s rental high market and inflationary times which impacts all .
They could even think out of the box to set-up a new start-up Hawker Centre exclusively for new hawkers under a Government Funded programme which is much better than private built and run model in Sengkang case study showing a failure situation.
Funding new Singaporean Hawkers and those keen on starting the business seriously should be encouraged as a long term business and priority for our Singaporean Nation Building and creating opportunities.
Singaporeans and Hawkers both benefit as people especially in HDB heartlands with affordable and cost effective food options versus high priced food in shopping centres and other zones.
People should be given a choice where they could have their meals while for hawkers to given a chance to enter the trade and fair opportunity to work and earn from their efforts as a hawker.
NEA with Minister Balakrishnan and the new hawker initiative committee with the likes of FK Seetoh who champion local hawker food could also consider developing awards, promotions with media to recognize hawker food –even for tourists (Not just for hotels and top restaurant cuisines which is done currently)
So NEA, Minister Balakrishnan should walk the talk and push for funding and other creative ideas to make this happen for Hawkers and Singapore’s future to ensure good hawker food is still available and continued.