On Monday (1 Oct), Non-Constituency MP Daniel Goh asked in Parliament if social enterprises managing hawker centres are audited to prevent the use of hidden fees and charges.
He was asking in response to the recent public uproar over social enterprise operators imposing numerous other charges on top of rentals on hawkers. Singaporeans fear that such costs will eventually be passed on to them resulting in Singaporeans paying higher hawker food prices.
In response, Senior Minister of State for the Environment and Water Resources Amy Khor said that operators of hawker centres have to inform potential stallholders of rental and operating charges before signing any agreement with them.
"They are not permitted to vary these charges over the term of the tenancy," she replied.
Operators have to be transparent about costs, she said. This includes optional ones for value-added services like coin-changing, which are also subject to the NEA's approval.
"These measures limit the potential profits, if any, of operators and ensure that rentals are affordable for stallholders," she said. "Today, the stall rentals, together with operating costs at our new hawker centres, are significantly lower than those in comparable foodcourts and coffee shops."
In other words, Dr Khor is now comparing the new social enterprise operated hawker centres with foodcourts and coffee shops, instead of hawker centres traditionally managed by NEA.
Hawkers pay twice or more the amount of fees to Social Enterprise Hawker Centre operators
Indeed, food guru KF Seetoh wrote on his Facebook page earlier that comparing with the hawker centres managed by NEA, the stall rentals with the associated ancillary charges in the new hawker centres operated by social enterprises come up a lot more.
Mr Seetoh said, "These hawkers in the new hawker centres 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."
In any case, Dr Khor assured the House that NEA would ensure that rentals charged and the associated ancillary costs are "reasonable" in the new hawker centres operated by social enterprises.
For example, a key tender evaluation criterion when evaluating bids from potential operators is the rental and operating costs that the operators will charge stallholders, she said.
"Operators who propose lower rentals and operating costs will be considered more favourably," she added. "It takes time for a new hawker centre to establish itself. The Government will continue to refine and improve the management model, so as to provide affordable food in a hygienic environment while allowing hawkers to make a decent livelihood."
However, despite Dr Khor's assurance that the social enterprise operators were carefully selected through strict NEA's tender evaluation criteria, many hawkers at the new hawker centres run by the operators were already crying foul.
One hawker told Mr Seetoh, "Social enterprise hawker centres are not sustainable. Just you wait, a lot of such hawkers are calling it quits soon."