by Joseph Nathan

Technically speaking, hawkers in our Hawker Centres are already paying National Environment Agency (NEA) to help them clear the tables and wash their crockery, and these costs are inevitably passed on to their customers.

How NEA chooses to “define” this responsibility, or outsourced it in its entirety, remains their prerogative.

In so far as customers are concerned, the onus to ensure the tables are cleared, and crockery washed and returned to hawkers, remain the sole responsibility of NEA.

No restaurant or coffeeshop owners will go into the F&B business with the expectation that their customers will clean up after their meals, as if they are running some kind of army cookhouse.

This is called service and it has been priced into the cost of meals.

Unfortunately in Singapore, when our hawker centres were being institutionalized, every Tom, Dick & Harry suddenly jumped blindly at the opportunity of managing of our hawker centres or in the provision of cleaning services because there were “Big Money” to squeeze out of our poor hawkers.

Even NTUC and several grassroots leaders find it irresistible and have gone big either as operators or in the provision of cleaning services.

After many years of pocketing fat profit from our poor hawkers, it is looking like no one has succeeded in coming up with a solution to keep the tables at our hawker centres clean.

In short, no food court operator or cleaning contractor has helped our poor hawkers to solve this problem despite being paid, not even NEA or any of our Environment minister.

While most of hawkers may have low academic qualifications, let us not forget that it was through their collective hardwork and sweat that gave us the honour of being a part of the UNESCO Representative List of the Intangible Cultural.

As such, the latest attempt by NEA to impose fine on their customers is not only highly ironical, but also highly questionable, as it gives the impression that NEA is rewarding their operators and cleaning contractors for their failure to deliver.

Is NEA trying to encourage such bad behaviour, and failures, instead of acting in the interests of our hawkers?

In defence of our poor hawkers, who had given us international honour and are struggling to stay afloat due to the impact of the current pandemic, Singaporeans need to help them demand a better explanation from the senior executives of NEA and our minister for the Environment.

As hawker centres served the middle and lower income Singaporeans, is NEA’s latest attempt to impose hefty fine on fellow Singaporeans, who are already hard-hit by the impact of the current pandemic, even justifiable to begin with?

If government agencies and ministries do not put the interest of Singaporeans in the centre of their policies and initiatives, then our country will become more divided, not only politically, but also by the rich-poor divide.

If so, Singapore will fail as a nation.

Time we ask the CEO and Chairman of NEA, and also the minister for the Environment, if they still believe that Singaporeans deserve better?

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