In the midst of the $600 inspection fee controversy, group general manager of Fei Siong Food Management Joe Sng blamed some of his staff for "mis-communicating" to the hawkers with regard to the fee.
On Friday (7 Sep), Mr Sng told the media, "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 said.
He also confirmed that the $600 inspection fee and $50 coin exchange fee are "optional". However, the inspection fee is compulsory for those hawkers who have signed up for their entrepreneurship programme.
"We're doing this because we are insisting on our brand and quality. When we manage Ci Yuan, people will think of Fei Siong. If we're not doing a good job, it will affect our Fei Siong group. So on this point, we emphasize the food quality, food prices and food cleanliness regulations," he said.
However, TOC heard from stall owners at the Ci Yuan hawker centre that they were not told by the company that the inspection fees were optional and that they had to either agree with what it is listed or not sign on the contract.
Meanwhile, it has been reported that the other social enterprise operators do not charge any inspection fee even though they also conduct food quality and hygiene audits for hawkers.
Social enterprise operators have been under fire recently due to some of the exorbitant ancillary charges they impose on hawkers at their hawker centres, on top of the regular stall rentals.
For example, thanks to revelations from Makansutra food guru KF Seetoh, it has been found that NTUC Foodfare charges hawkers an exorbitant $850 dishwashing fee, more than half of rental. Dishwashing charges constitute the largest amount among the ancillary charges imposed by NTUC Foodfare.
In the case of Fei Siong, it's not known how much (if any) they are charging the hawkers for dishwashing.
GreatSolutions provides centralised dishwashing service
Back in 2013, it was reported that then Labour MP Yeo Guat Kwang (aka MP with 64 jobs who sat on many boards and committees) was said to have jumped at the idea of providing a centralised dishwashing service at hawker centres, after hawkers "complained to him about difficulties hiring dishwashers".
"Given the labour shortage and tighter foreign workers quota, outsourcing and automation is the way to go for jobs that locals do not want to do," he told the media then.
But Yuhua Hawkers' Association chairman Karney Ngai countered that the service should be an opt-in one, as it does not lower hawkers' expenses. Ms Ngai told the media, "For those who wash the dishes themselves, it can be difficult to persuade them to pay for something that they are now doing themselves for free... And while most hawkers will not raise their prices, some who cannot absorb the higher costs might."
The media also reported at the time that one of the dishwashing companies interested to participate in an NEA tender then was GreatSolutions Pte Ltd. It turns out that Fei Siong is currently using the centralised dishwashing service from GreatSolutions.
On its website, GreatSolutions wrote that it specialises in "large-scale centralised dishwashing services" and it is a service provider for "outsourced dishwashing services". It is operating as a subsidiary under a holding company, GS Holdings, which went public in 2016.
Its website listed Fei Siong as one of its customers.
GS Holdings run by grassroots leader Pang Pok
The executive chairman and CEO of GS Holdings is Pang Pok.
In its latest annual report, it stated that Mr Pang is responsible for the Group’s overall management, including overseeing its operations, setting directions for new growth areas and developing business strategies.
"He has been instrumental in our Group’s growth, having founded four out of the five of our Group’s companies, including GreatSolutions Pte. Ltd. in 2012," the report said.
"Mr Pang was awarded the Public Service Medal by the Singapore President’s Office in 2011 and the Long Service Award by the People’s Association in 2013. He also serves as Assistant Treasurer of the Hainan Business Club, Honorary Deputy Treasurer of the Yuying Secondary School Management Committee, Vice Chairman of the Qinghai Association (Singapore) and Vice President of the Guang Wu Club."
In the National Archives, it also featured "grassroots leader Pang Pok" attending a community reunion dinner with then Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong at Kampong Ubi-Kembangan in 2011. Together with them were also then MP Ong Seh Hong, Chairman of Kampong Ubi-Kembangan Citizens' Consultative Committee Teo Cheng Swee, and grassroots leader George Goh.
However, the annual report also indicated that GS Holdings is running losses. It generated a revenue of $9.9 million last year but reported a loss of $3.9 million after tax. "This was mainly due to the increase of cost of sales by approximately S$1.6 million or 17%, from S$9.3 million in FY2016 to S$10.9 million in FY2017," it said.
It blamed the increase in cost on increase in foreign worker levy paid out due to an overall increase in foreign workers hired by the company, increase in overhead cost such as utilities expenses and transportation and an increase in depreciation expenses.
Its administrative expense amounted to $3.6 million, of which about $1 million went to "key management personnel compensation".