It was earlier reported that a feud has broken out between some of the hawkers at the new Jurong West Hawker Centre and Koufu's subsidiary, "Hawker Management Pte Ltd", the so-called "social enterprise" operator running the hawker centre.
It was first reported by food guru KF Seetoh on his blog last Tuesday (9 Oct). Mr Seetoh did not name the operator but Todayonline did a follow-up story and confirmed that the operator was, indeed, Hawker Management, a subsidiary of public listed company Koufu Group.
On his blog, Mr Seetoh shared some of the unfair high-handed practices adopted by Hawker Management against the hawkers. For example, the operator would penalize the hawker if the hawker quit his stall prematurely, 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 gives Hawker Management the rights to "at any time" and "from time to time" increase stall rentals and ancillary charges.
To top it all, the hawkers are made to subsidize the tray-return fees. They have to pay on behalf of customers to Hawker Management $0.20 per tray returned by the customers. The customers do not place any deposits for trays used like in other hawker centres. Hawkers end up paying a few hundreds of dollars, sometimes as high as $900, for the tray-return charges alone. This is on top of their monthly rentals and ancillary charges they must pay to Hawker Management.
Forced into a corner, some of the hawkers at Jurong West Hawker Centre decided to come together and sent a petition to NEA, asking the government to intervene. NEA would only say that the hawkers themselves were aware of the charges before signing the agreement with Hawker Management, but promised to look into the matter.
Netizens: At $1,100 for dish washing service, hawkers can hire own dish washer
One hawker gave a breakdown of his costs amounting to some more than $4,000 to Todayonline:
Rent - $2,140
Dish washing - $1,100
Cash machine rental - $300
Tray return - few hundreds but can be as high as $900
Service fee - $250
Sharp-eyed netizens have noticed the high dishwashing charges imposed by Hawker Management on the hawkers. Many commented that at $1,100 per month, the hawkers themselves can actually employ their own dishwashing person.
Hawker Management owned by Koufu Group, is in turn founded by Pasir Ris-Punggol GRC grassroots leader Pang Lim. Koufu in fact, just went public recently in July this year. Mr Pang Lim (PBM), is also the Vice-Chairman of Punggol 21 CC Building Fund Committee as well as Patron of Punggol North CCC and Punggol 21 CCMC.
As a matter of fact, Hawker Management had outsourced its dish washing and table cleaning services to GreatSolutions Pte Ltd, a subsidiary of another public listed company GS Holdings Ltd, founded by Mr Pang Pok. According to disclosure in its annual report, Mr Pang Pok is the brother of Mr Pang Lim.
And the fine prints at the bottom of page 44 further disclosed that Mr Pang Pok's company would provide "centralised on and off-premise dishwashing and table top cleaning" services to Hawker Management, Mr Pang Lim's company, at $63,775 per month. An initial 3-year contract was signed between the 2 brothers' companies in Sep last year.
Pang Lim and Pang Pok are both grassroots leaders in the community
Incidentally, Mr Pang Pok himself is also a grassroots leader.
In the GS Holdings' annual report, it 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."
The National Archives 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 in a photo were also then MP Ong Seh Hong, Chairman of Kampong Ubi-Kembangan Citizens' Consultative Committee Teo Cheng Swee, and grassroots leader George Goh.
When the idea of having a centralised dish washing service for hawker centres was first mooted in 2013 by a PAP MP, then Yuhua Hawkers' Association chairman Karney Ngai countered that the service should be an opt-in one, as it does not lower hawkers' expenses.
At the time, 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."