Hawkers continue to pay inspection fee despite Fei Siong saying that fees are optional

After it was reported in mainstream media that Fei Siong Food Management has said that the $600 stall inspection fee is optional, TOC went down to Ci Yuan Hawker Centre to talk to the hawkers today (10 Sep).

National Environment Agency (NEA) currently outsources the management of Ci Yuan Hawker Centre at Hougang to a middleman, Fei Siong Food Management – supposedly a "social enterprise" operator.

Speaking to MSM, Fei Siong's group general manager Joe Sng clarified that the $600 inspection fee and $50 coin exchange fee are "optional". He said, "We believe it's some miscommunication from our team to hawkers."

He explained that the $600 fee was introduced in July to address concerns by the management on food portions sold by hawkers. After complaints from residents about shrinking food portions, the management introduced the $600 quality control service to address this issue, he added.

TOC talked to some of the hawkers who, understandably, did not want their names to be quoted.

A Chinese-cooked food stall owner shared that she has to pay the $600 inspection fee. Surprisingly, she added that the management has already been charging an inspection fee since last year. It was $700 last year and this year, it was reduced to $600 for some reasons. She also shared that the $50 coin exchange fee is not optional and has to be paid whether the service is being used or not. Pointing at the malfunctioned money collection machine, she said, "if this was still working, we would have to pay for this as well."

Another cooked-food stall told TOC that she was not aware that the inspection is optional. When told that the management had told mainstream news media that inspection fee is optional, she said, "If the contract writes that we have to pay, nothing much we can contest about." This stall owner has assumed that the inspection fee is meant for hygiene inspection.

A nasi-lemak stall worker also said that it was never told to them that the inspection fee is optional, and that it was just listed in the contract as one of the fees which have to be paid in order to rent the stall.

A roasted-meat stall owner added that there was no choice for him as far as the inspection fee goes. This is because it was already stated in the contract given to him by the management. In other words, it's either one signs the contract including the inspection fee as a whole or not signs at all.

But the roasted-meat hawker did say that regardless of the inspection fee, it is still somewhat cheaper than renting a stall in some privately-run coffeeshops. Then again, when one compares the hawker stalls at Ci Yuan with those run by NEA directly, it is definitely still cheaper for hawkers to operate at the NEA-managed hawker centres on the average.

Makansutra founder KF Seetoh wrote on this blog, "These hawkers in the new hawker centres (run by social enterprises) pay in total (with a laundry list of extra services and charges), an average of $4000, more than what it cost the highest bidder in Maxwell Hawker Centre - arguably the most popular hawker centre in Singapore - where it hovers between two to three thousand dollars a month in total."

Interestingly, a Muslim food stall owner shared that he does not need to pay the $600 inspection fee. He told TOC that his stall was not charged as it is under a different scheme since he only came in Feb this year. According to him, he pays around $3-4k, with the utilities being a varying factor of the monthly expenses.

And for the stalls that pay the $600 inspection fee, they told TOC that they also pay around $3-4k after the inclusion of the inspection fee. This begs the question of whether the $600 is to offset the cheaper rentals charged by Fei Siong under a different scheme.

Then, it also appears that the inspection fees imposed by Fei Siong are not uniform. A drink stall staff shared that their stall had to pay $1000 a month while the rest of the stalls pay $600 a month for inspection. When asked why the difference, she only shook her head and said, "It is just stated in the contract, nothing much to say."

Perhaps it takes more efforts for Fei Siong to inspect drinks than food?