Senior Minister of State for the Environment and Water Resources Amy Khor (Khor) has said that "action will be taken" against food court operators "who are found to be errant" in relation to growing public concern for how "social enterprises hawker centres" are run.
The whole premise of a social enterprise is to have the consumer at the centre of its existence. It is meant to ensure that prices are fair and affordable. Its overriding concern should not be driven by profit.
Amid growing evidence that many social enterprises are more enterprising than socially conscious, I am heartened that Khor has finally said something. However, before any meaningful action can be taken against errant social enterprise hawker centres, we first have to define what the yardsticks are to begin with.
What is the benchmark for assessing errant behaviour?
It is also noteworthy to point out that NTUC Enterprise is set to acquire Kopitiam. Given the size and reach of Kopitiam, NTUC's acquisition will give it a virtual monopoly over hawker food. Is this in line with the philosophy behind the concept of social enterprises? Does the existence of monopolies breed an environment that will ensure that prices are kept low for the consumer?
The problem with monopolies is that it leaves little room for the public to be able to hold industries accountable as the consumer will not be able to exercise a meaningful choice. It, therefore, leaves too much to the discretion of the monopoly in question how it wishes to treat its customers. This type of power, if unchecked, can create a monster. Do we really want this scenario in the food industry, bearing in mind that food is a necessity?
Where does Khor stand in relation to NTUC Enterprise's proposed acquisition of Kopitiam? Will she consider this to be "errant"?
At the end of the day, anyone can issue a statement. However, a statement remains just words unless further action is taken. Without clearing defining the role of a social enterprise hawker centre and spelling out what conduct would be considered "errant", everything is viewed in isolation with no context. Who then decides what is errant and what is not?
Will this, in fact, lead to the creation of two monopolies? One controlling hawker food from raw to cooked and the other deciding whether or not that monopoly has breached standards in a vacuum. This, in turn, creates a system whereby there is regulation "on paper" but no real fairness, consumer choice or accountability.
So please, can the Minister go back to basics and let us know what her definition of "social enterprise hawker centre" is?