With more letters written to ST Forum by members of the public lambasting NEA and its "social enterprise" hawker centre model, the NEA Director of Hawker Centre Division Ivy Ong wrote to ST Forum today ('New hawker centre model tries to balance competing interests', 25 Oct) to once again defend NEA's policy.
She said that when the Government resumed the building of hawker centres in 2012, NEA sought a management model that prioritises consumers' needs - such as food affordability, availability and a clean environment - while "balancing the sustainability of the hawker trade in terms of profitability and addressing unattractive working conditions".
She reminded everyone that the social enterprise model came after "extensive consultations".
"The aim (of the model) is to leverage the expertise of socially conscious enterprise operators in food and beverage, property and lease management, and introduce new and innovative ideas to achieve the social mission of hawker centres on a not-for-profit basis," she said.
But on the other hand, Elim Chew who chaired the 18-member Hawker Centre Public Consultation Panel back in 2012, had said that "not-for-profit" doesn’t mean that the operators "don’t make profit".
Ms Ong continued, "Besides offering affordable food in a clean environment, the operators are required to implement initiatives to enhance the vibrancy of the centre and sustain the hawker trade. These include measures to increase footfall, the curation of food mix, introducing famous food recipes and hawker mentorship programmes."
"NEA seeks to achieve a balance by requiring the hawker to serve an affordably priced food option while favouring centre operators with a lower total cost to stallholders," she said. "Operators are also not allowed to vary the charges to stallholders at any time during the tenancy term."
She also said that Kampung Admiralty and Our Tampines Hub hawker centres are "doing well". Kampung Admiralty hawker centre is under NTUC Foodfare while Tampines Hub hawker centre is under the Kopitiam Group, which would be taken over by NTUC Foodfare by the end of the year.
"The hawker centres run by socially conscious enterprise operators are pilot projects, and form seven out of 114 hawker centres in Singapore. They have brought some benefits but there are also areas that need to be reviewed and improved, which we are doing as part of the stock take of the management model," she added.
Still, a hawker centre doing well doesn't necessary mean the hawkers are doing well. It may just mean the social enterprise operators are doing well.