By Leong Sze Hian
I refer to the article “Not-for-profit model sought for 4 food centres” (Straits Times, Jan 4, republished Jan 7). I believe it may not be very often that a news article gets republished.
Not-for-profit hawker centres?
The paper writes that the Government is considering to have managers run four existing hawker centres on a not-for-profit basis as being the first such move here in Singapore. These managers can choose to take over the existing centres’ cleaning, maintenance and other duties from the town councils.
Not-for-profit means lower prices?
The message appears to be that we are trying to help Singaporeans by lowering or maintaining food prices, on the assumption that “not-for-profit” may lead to benefits to consumers.
How about taking the lead and setting the example with rental?
If we really want to help Singaporeans in managing food prices at hawker prices – shouldn’t we take the lead by re-examining what is arguably the biggest cost item for most stalls – rental?
Why don’t we go the “not-for-profit” route for all hawker centres, in regard to rental.
Non-subsidised stalls’ rent by professional valuer?
According to the National Environment Agency (NEA) – “For the non-subsidised stalls, the appraisal of hawker stall rentals is based on a valuation by a professional valuer. The market rental for such stalls is generally lower than those in private food courts.”
What is the average rental paid by non-subsidised stalls?
So, if we really want to help to lower or maintain food prices – using the current “market valuation by a professional valuer” may lead to ever increasing rentals, and correspondingly higher food prices.
How much NEA make from rentals?
How much money is collected in total in a year from hawker stall rentals?
With 6,258 cooked food stalls managed by the NEA, is it around $40 million or more a year?
Can you imagine the impact on food prices if the NEA goes with its latest fad of “not-for-profit”?
Don’t you realise that practically whenever a hawker centre is upgraded or cleaning contract fees are increased due to the various schemes in recent years to try to pay cleaners’ higher wages with little success – has lead to higher prices?
Back to the Past?
We should consider going back to the original scheme for hawker centres when they first started in the early 1970s – as I understand it – all stallholders pay subsidised rentals and must attend to their stalls personally, are not in other occupations, cannot own and cannot sublet their stalls.
In other words, do away with non-subsidised market rate stalls entirely, gradually by phasing out the existing scheme.
Take hawker centres away from town councils?
As to “In a first, these managers can also choose to take over the town councils’ duties for the centres.
Social enterprise NTUC Foodfare will manage the new Bukit Panjang hawker centre on a not-for-profit basis when it opens next year.”
Erosion of the hold by town councils?
– do you not get the edgy feeling that after the last general elections – more and more things seem to be directly or indirectly taken away from the town councils (or at least 1 of them) – facilities to the People’s Association, town council software (The AIM affair), 100 per cent of the operating surplus instead of 80 per cent transferred to the sinking fund after every election if the town council is won by a different party, and now maybe hawker centres too?