The SMRT Feedback Facebook page has had a wild ride this week. After deleting two of their previous posts on the topic of social enterprise managing hawker centres and KF Seetoh, SMRT Feedback by The Vigilanteh has published a relatively measured post highlighting the contract between the Our Tampines Hub (OTH) and their hawkers, calling the agreement ‘legal gangsterism’ and apologising to KF Seetoh for their previous posts.
Before we go any further, here’s a quick recap of what happened:
On Monday (15 Oct), Makansutra Founder KF Seetoh took to Facebook to address the issue of hawkers at the Jurong West Hawker Centre having to pay 20 cents to their customers for each returned tray. KF Seetoh pointed out that customers do not pay to receive a tray but the hawkers are expected to pay them for returning it. Earlier this month, Seetoh had also written an open letter to Senior Minister of State Dr Amy Khor asking her to preserve Singapore’s public hawker centres and not compare them to private food courts. Many netizens agreed with Seetoh.
The next day, the Facebook page SMRT Feedback by The Vigilanteh slammed KF Seetoh for his comments and open letter, calling him a hypocrite. That Facebook post which has now been deleted alleged “Seetoh shouldn’t ride the high-horse to protest hawker rentals when he himself is charging exorbitant rates, like $10,000 per month”. Seetoh was also accused of having hawkers pay up to $30,000 for renovation works and for not hiring elderly Singaporean cleaners.
The backlash on that post was immediate and furious. Netizens hounded the admin of SMRT Feedback, pointing out that Seetoh’s establishments are targeted at tourists and therefore people shouldn’t expect it to be as cheap as heartland hawker centres.
Shortly after that, SMRT Feedback deleted that post and issued an apology. “In a previous post, I compared Seetoh’s atas food court vs the HDB food court, which is indeed apples vs oranges, in the context of economics. On this note, I’d like to evoke the words of the venerable Lee Kuan Yew: I stand corrected.”
The post also clarified why they felt it was necessary to call out Seetoh:
“Both private and social enterprises are the same for-profit entities that share the same goals of commercialisation. The core difference is that the latter utilises profits for socially-driven causes. Where people get confused is whether such causes are meant for the benefit of hawkers or the benefit of consumers? If a chicken rice cost $2.50 (non-halal one because the chicken anyhow cut so it’s cheaper), the consumers benefit, while the hawkers are left in a lurch. Are social-enterprises able to compromise with a solution that benefits both parties? Improvements yes, but I reckon it’s not simply black and white. Someone has got to give."
"Hawkers should not pay for the return of trays, period. Where they should pay is dishwashing and cleaning, because this then improves the efficiency for the hawkers and for them to focus more on the cooking, instead of the cleaning.”
It also went after economist Donald Low for his take on the matter, and defence of Kf Seetoh.
Without missing a beat, netizens questioned SMRT Feedback on why they deleted the original post. SMRT Feedback claimed that it was deleted by Facebook. No one is buying that, by the way.
Obviously, this led to even more criticisim online with more and more people calling out their bluff and slamming SMRT Feedback for their insincere apology. At this point, SMRT Feeback apparently started deleting the unfavourable comments as well.
A little later on, they edited the entire apology post, basically retracting it and claimed that it was made by a previous admin. The group said that they will “call out Singaporeans who are suddenly so righteous about hawkers’ well-being when in the same breath demand for lower hawker fares, belittling them and devaluing the actual effort of hawkers,” adding that they are not PAP bootlickers and weren’t paid by anyone. More backlash followed.
After all that, SMRT Feedback by the Vigilanteh also deleted the so-called apology post and put another, new post on their page.
This latest post shared screenshots of the contract given to hawkers at OTH which lays out the rental and additional costs that hawkers will have to fork out. The post said, “This is not a social enterprise. This is legal gangsterism with hawkers paying protection fees.”
Adding to that, “The SEHC scheme was originally launched with the aim of promoting hawker culture and also to ensure an affordable dining option for the community. And then you have sharks like Kopitiam and the Koufu group - a public listed company - dictating unfair and we dare say, discriminatory clauses that do not in any way seem like an initiative to protect the rights of hawkers.”
(For the record, the screenshots were from an earlier article in 2016 by The Online Citizen which SMRT Feedback said that they were not aware and had the screenshots sent to its inbox. Its comments were subsequently deleted as well.)
The post then goes on to apologise to KF Seetoh again. They said “SMRT Feedback was created to call out bullshit when it happens, without fear or favour, even if it means calling out our own.”
The comments on this latest post seem mostly positive, with many commenters lauding SMRT for acknowledging their own mistaken and pointing out the unfair conditions imposed on hawkers at OTH. Now, after the deleting spree that SMRT was on these past couple of days - removing two posts and several comments - I’d take this overtly supportive comments section with a pinch of salt. You don’t know if they’re screening their comments now to prevent any further backlash.
To be honest, it surprises me that everyone seems to happily accept their latest post on the matter with no criticism.