Cheap hawker food – the reality behind politicians' Facebook postings

Following the debacle over Member of Parliament (MP) Baey Yam Keng’s posting about having paid S$3.00 for a meal of nasi padang and a cup of bandung in December, Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean is being questioned about his Facebook posting about a S$1.80 chicken rice.
On 29 March, Mr Teo posted the following on his Facebook page [you can still see it here].
The posting seemed to have originated from a member of his grassroots’ Facebook page belonging to one Ng Cher Pheng:
Mr Teo had added in the location of the stall – Pasir Ris – which sold the meal at that price.
Mr Teo is one of the MPs for Pasir Ris-Punggol GRC.
Following his posting, some started to question if it was true – that the chicken rice meal costs only S$1.80, reminiscent of the doubts over Mr Baey’s claim over the nasi padang meal.
Website TR Emeritus (TRE) decided to investigate and visited the stall on Monday, 31 March. [Read the report here: “A sad story behind $1.80 chicken rice in DPM’s GRC”.] It reported that it was true that the chicken rice meal costs S$1.80. However, this was a “promotional price”, something which both Mr Teo and Mr Ng did not mention in both of their Facebook postings.
TRE took a photo of the banner at the stall announcing the promotion:
Moreover, the hawker told TRE that he had actually been running his business in Tampines Central previously but had to move to Pasir Ris because of the high rental.
“[Because] of the ridiculous rental which keeps increasing at Tampines,” TRE says, “he had no choice but to close shop and move to Pasir Ris.”
TRE reports:

“At the moment, the rental of his stall at Blk 446 is still manageable.
“However, he is concerned for his business. He told TRE, “This is lunch time now and you can see how big the crowd is.” Indeed, although there were people buying his chicken rice, the crowd was not that great despite the promotional price of $1.80 a plate.
“When asked how long he is going to keep his chicken rice promotion going, he sighed, “See lah”.”

TRE criticised Mr Teo and Mr Ng for not being “close to the ground” and for not ascertaining the facts of the matter before making those postings online.

“Rather than trying to score political points by touting cheap food in his constituency, DPM Teo should go and talk to the hawker to find out if there is any story behind it. This is what it means to “stay close to the ground”. If he is too busy, he should dispatch his grassroots.
“But then again, his own grassroots leader, Ng Cher Pheng, instead of finding out more about the story behind the $1.80 promotional price, quickly put up a Facebook message, “Lunch only $1.80 @Blk446“, to inform DPM Teo about it without mentioning that it is a promotional price in the message.”

In Mr Baey’s case, he had explained – after his posting has caused a furore – that a “staff had recognised me that day and out of respect for my work and service in the community, charged me only $3 when it was more than $4.”
Still, many were not convinced and continued to question why he did not originally seem to know that such a meal would not cost S$2.50.
The two episodes, however, have thrown up a deeper issue which has come to the fore in recent weeks – how high rental for food outlets are forcing stalls to close.
While the Pasir Ris chicken rice stall is trudging on, Mr Baey will no longer be able to eat at the nasi padang stall. It has since closed down due to high rental, reported the press.
Ironically, in December, while Mr Baey was posting about how cheap a meal of nasi padang was, foodcourt chain Banquet was reported to be closing down. Part of the reason was high commercial rents.
Insing reported:

“Commercial rents have largely risen across the board, and especially within shopping malls, and even more so for food-related businesses. 
“When your lease is due for renewal and the mall landlord decides to squeeze you for more, how many more bowls of fishball noodles do you have to sell to cover that increase?
“If even a large foodcourt operator such as Banquet struggles to manage these costs, what chance do small independent F&B businesses have?”

In March, the famous nasi padang restaurant at Zion Road, River Valley, announced that it will be closing down on 28 March 2014. Again, one of the reasons cited by the owner was high rental.
“The landlord said that he can ask me to leave with just three months’ notice,” the restaurant owner said. “So maybe he has a better deal with other people.”
He disclosed that the landlord had raised his rental by S$1,000 – to $11,000 a month. [See report here.] nasipadang famous
Even the Hai Bin Bishan Prawning business was compelled to close due to the high rent imposed by its landlord, Nature Park, as TOC reported in September. [See report here.] Its rental was being hiked by 300 per cent:

TOC reported: “Mr Wang Huiqing, the person in charge at the Bishan branch, said that the landlord gave an offer of $110,000 to renew the rental of the shop inclusive of the coffeeshop just beside it. Previously, the rental of the whole site which includes the prawning pond and the coffeeshop, was charged a monthly rental of $43,000.”

Thus, the bigger issue here from all these stories – including those of the Pasir Ris chicken rice stall and the closure of the “S$2.50” nasi padang stall – is how rentals are killing the small businesses, and this is what Mr Teo, Mr Baey and Mr Ng should be more concerned about.
How many other small businesses are struggling silently just to keep their heads above water?

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