Government prefers hawkers to fend for themselves

If anything were to be gathered from answers from ministries about the support that hawkers get, it is that the Government would like for hawkers to fend for themselves.

The recent parliament session saw Mr Dennis Tan Lip Fong, Workers’ Party Non-Constituency Member of Parliament, asking the Minister for the Environment and Water Resources; whether the Ministry can consider giving a reduction in rent, up to an annual limit, for NEA hawker stallholders who are unable to work due to sickness and are certified medically unfit to work by a doctor from a polyclinic or Government hospital.

Answering on behalf of the Minister for the Environment and Water ResourcesIn response, Senior Minister of State for the Environment and Water Resources, Dr Amy Khor Lean Suan said, : “All stallholders in NEA-managed hawker centers are required to pay rent throughout their tenancy. Nonetheless, my Ministry will consider requests from hawkers who are genuinely unable to carry on their business temporarily and explore options to assist them on a case-by-case basis.”

For example, Dr Khor said, a stallholder who is ill may appoint a person to operate the stall on his or her behalf for the period he or she is ill.

The Senior Minister of State continued, “That said, when no other options are available, we do, from time to time, grant concessions where the circumstances are exceptional and worthy of compassion. For example, we have waived rent payments in a case where the stallholder was temporarily unable to operate his stall after he sustained serious injuries and had to undergo extensive medical treatment for a few months.”

Dr Khor said, ultimately stallholders need to assess their own health and determine whether they are able or suited to work in the hawker trade.

“Those who are often medically unfit to work in the hawker trade may wish to transfer their stalls to their relatives and consider other employment options,” she concluded.

Another MP from the Worker Party, Mr Muhamad Faisal Bin Abdul Manap (Aljunied GRC) had also asked the Minister for the Environment and Water Resources on issues surrounding the hawkers.

He asked the Minister about the reasons for the discontinuation since 1989 of subsidised stalls under the Government’s hardship scheme in markets/hawker centers managed by NEA and whether the Ministry will consider reinstating this scheme.

Mr Masagos Zulkifli, the Minister for the Environment and Water Resources responded in a written reply, “Under the old Hardship Scheme, vacant hawker stalls were offered to those experiencing financial hardship at subsidised rent.”

“However, the take-up rate was low as most hardship cases preferred to hold out for a vacant stall only in the more popular centers. Due to its limited effectiveness, this scheme was discontinued in 1990.”

The Minister then wrote that today, anyone can bid for vacant hawker stalls which NEA puts up for tender every month.

There are no plans to reinstate the scheme, Mr Zulkifli answered Mr Faisal’s second question, “To be successful and sustain a hawker stall, a hawker requires entrepreneurship and passion, no different from any business. It would, therefore, make more sense to let those who are genuinely interested in the hawker trade to bid for stalls, as they will have built in both the risks and the gains.”

It is not supportable to ring-fence a certain number of stalls for those in financial difficulty and believe they will automatically succeed, he stated, “Those who face financial hardship can seek assistance through the various Government help schemes available.”

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