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Hawkers’ feud with Koufu: NEA headed by BG says hawkers aware of charges before signing agreement

Food guru KF Seetoh from Makansutra wrote an open letter to Senior Minister of State Dr Amy Khor on Tuesday (9 Oct) imploring her to preserve Singapore's public hawker centres. In essence, Mr Seetoh is against the government appointing a 3rd-party, the so-called "social enterprise" operator, to run publicly funded hawker centres.

In his letter, Mr Seetoh also shared more unfair practices adopted by some of the Social Enterprise Hawker Centre (SEHC) operators against hawkers. He shared snippets of the 1-sided agreement online crafted by one SEHC operator to show how ridiculous the terms are.

For example, under the agreement, the operator would have the rights to penalize a hawker if the hawker quit his stall half-way, making him pay the remaining months of rentals and fees until a new tenant, subjected to the approval of the operator, is found. The agreement also has an all-encompassing clause stating that the operator is entitled to "at any time" and "from time to time" increase stall rentals and ancillary charges. There is little the poor hawker can do once he signs the agreement.

SEHC is Jurong West Hawker Centre run by subsidiary of Koufu

On Friday (11 Oct), Todayonline reported that the SEHC involved is actually the new Jurong West Hawker Centre, run by Hawker Management Pte Ltd, a subsidiary of Koufu Group.

Koufu in fact, just went public recently in Jul this year. Koufu is founded by Mr Pang Lim (PBM), a grassroots leader at Pasir Ris-Punggol GRC. He is the Vice-Chairman of Punggol 21 CC Building Fund Committee as well as Patron of Punggol North CCC and Punggol 21 CCMC.

Other dubious tactics employed by Koufu's subsidiary also include forcing the hawker to pay $0.20 for each tray returned by the patrons. The patrons do not need to put any deposit monies for trays used. As a result, the hawkers said sometimes they even had arguments with patrons over trays.

For example, if a patron uses three trays for three dishes that could be placed on one tray, the poor hawker has to fork out 60 cents in total on behalf of the patron. Some patrons also took advantage of this ill-conceived system to get back their money as much as possible by using more trays. One hawker told Todayonline that they had to pay Koufu's subsidiary as high as $900 for tray charges at times.

Forced into a corner, a number of hawkers at the Jurong West Hawker Centre decided to petition the National Environment Agency (NEA) for Koufu's subsidiary to remove the $0.20 tray-return fee.

When contacted by Todayonline, an NEA's spokesperson reportedly say that the agency has received “feedback” from some stallholders at Jurong West Hawker Centre and that the stallholders were “aware of the charges involved before signing the (tenancy) agreement” with Hawker Management, subsidiary of Koufu.

The spokesperson added that the agency has asked Hawker Management to work with the stallholders to address any concerns on this matter and that effective tray-return systems make the cleaning of tables easier and faster, which is beneficial to both customers and stallholders.

NEA run by BG Tan Meng Dui

Currently, the Chief Executive of NEA is BG (NS) Tan Meng Dui. He was, in fact, appointed to run NEA only recently (2 Oct). He took over from RADM (NS) Ronnie Tay, the former Chief of Navy, who helmed NEA since 2013.

According to a press release from the Ministry of the Environment and Water Resources, RADM Tay "played a key role in steering the development of 20 new hawker centres, and the formulation and implementation of the Hawker 3.0 Masterplan to sustain the hawker trade, enhance the vibrancy of hawker centres and raise their productivity level".

The new NEA CEO BG Tan was formerly a Brigadier General from the SAF. After SAF, he went on to become the Deputy Secretary (Technology) in MINDEF HQ. He was later transferred to MND as Deputy Secretary (Development).

BG Tan is said to have graduated with a Bachelor of Science (Mathematics) First Class Honours from the University of London, Imperial College of Science and Technology, UK in 1989. He subsequently obtained a Master in Public Administration from Harvard University in 2001. He was awarded the Public Administration Medal (Silver) (Military) in 2006, and the Long Service Medal (Military) in 2011.

The government deemed that with his many years of experience in the SAF, BG Tan is ready to run NEA, taking care of our public funded hawker centers, and hopefully, our hawkers too.