Amid the furore surrounding social enterprise hawker centres recently, and following Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong’s announcement to nominate Singapore’s hawker culture as a part of the UNESCO Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity, a 14-member committee has been set up to provide recommendations and guidance for that purpose.
PM Lee said in his National Day Rally speech on 19 Aug: "Three years ago, the Singapore Botanic Gardens was inscribed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. This was a proud moment for Singaporeans. As of now, it is our first and only UNESCO World Heritage Site.
"We now want a second UNESCO inscription,” referring to the Singaporean hawker culture.
In a joint statement on Monday (22 Oct), it was announced that the committee will be co-chaired by National Heritage Board chief executive Chang Hwee Nee, National Environment Agency chief executive Tan Meng Dui and Federation of Merchants' Associations president Yeo Hiang Meng.
The committee, which will comprise members from both public and private sectors, will provide recommendations as to what documents ought to be submitted to UNESCO in March 2019, on top of brainstorming "ideas to strengthen Singaporeans' pride and love for hawker culture" and encouraging the community to support the nomination.
Mr Jesher Loi, branding and marketing development director of Ya Kun International; Dr Jack Lee, president of the Singapore Heritage Society; and Ms Denise Tan, director of hospitality at ITE College West are among the members that make up the list of the committee.
"As we strive for greater public participation in the nomination journey, I hope that more young Singaporeans will step forward to contribute and gain greater appreciation of our hawker culture,” said Mr Loi.
Dr Lee’s expertise lies in heritage and culture property laws, while Ms Tan is a member of the Hawker Centre 3.0 Committee.
Ms Tan said: "Hawker culture belongs to all of us, and to ensure its sustainability, we must continue to do our part to safeguard and promote this culture for future generations."
Provost at the Singapore Management University Lily Kong and senior lecturer at the National University of Singapore Suriani Suratman will also be included in the committee, which will last until Feb 2021.
In a bid to encourage Singaporeans to support the nomination, the National Heritage Board will be launching a travelling exhibition, called Our SG Hawker Culture, to various locations around Singapore, including hawker centres, shopping malls and libraries.
Around 30,000 Singaporeans have pledged to support the nomination online, according to the joint statement by the co-chairs of the committee.
Hawker culture not only pivotal in keeping living costs low, but also a "unique part of Singapore's heritage and identity": PM Lee
In his NDR speech at the Institute of Technical Education College Central, PM Lee said:
"Hawker centres are important not just to keep the cost of living low. They are a cultural institution, a unique part of Singapore’s heritage and identity. Hawker centres are our community dining rooms. Singaporeans of all races — Chinese, Malay, Indian and Eurasian — and of all religious faiths and income groups, are able to eat together in hawker centres and enjoy our nasi lemak, char kway teow and roti prata.
"In our various consultations, there was widespread support from Singaporeans to nominate our hawker culture because it is “Uniquely Singapore” and reflects our daily lives.
"The UNESCO inscription will help to safeguard and promote this unique culture for future generations. It will also let the rest of the world know about our local food and multicultural heritage.
"I hope everyone will strongly support this nomination, so that our hawker culture can stand proudly on the world stage,” concluded PM Lee.