The National Environment Agency (NEA) has refuted veteran blogger Leong Sze Hian’s assertion that it collects profit from the management of hawker centres, stating that it neither collects profit nor keeps the fees for table-cleaning and dishwashing services.
The statement was made in response to Mr Leong’s Facebook post on 23 May, in which he cited article by The Straits Times on the NEA’s effort to provide S$9 million in rental waivers and subsidies to help local hawkers amid tightened COVID-19 measures.
ST’s report highlighted that Senior Minister of State for Sustainability and the Environment Amy Khor has announced that the NEA will waive half of hawker stall rentals in May and June, which will amount to some S$5.5 million in rental waivers.
To this, Mr Leong commented: “Does this mean that the NEA collects about $66 million ($5.5 x 12 months) a year?”
Ms Khor also noted that the NEA will “subsidise 100 per cent of fees” for table-cleaning and centralised dishwashing services for cooked food stallholders during the no-dine-in period, which amounting to some S$3.3 million.
Commenting on this, Mr Leong asked: “Does this mean that the NEA collects about $39 million ($3.3 x 12 months) a year?”
“So, does it add up to the NEA collecting a total of about $105 million ($66 + $39) a year? If so, this works out to an average of about $17,500 ($105m divided by 6,000 stalls) per stall.
“If we include non-cooked food and drinks stalls – how much more is NEA collecting?” he added.
Citing the Trading Economics’ data, Mr Leong pointed out that food Inflation in Singapore averaged 2.86 per cent from 1962 to 2020, compared to the inflation rate which averaged 2.50 per cent from 1962 to this year.
“Perhaps, the NEA could consider reducing the rental or services fees to lighten the cost burden of hawkers, mitigate the problem of a disappearing hawker culture and reduce prices to consumers,” he suggested.
NEA’s response to Leong Sze Hian
Responding to Mr Leong’s post, the NEA took to Facebook on Thursday (27 May) to clarify that the agency “does not profit from the management of hawker centres”.
“Mr Leong Sze Hian in his Facebook post on 23 May 2021 asked if ‘NEA collects at least $105 million a year from hawkers’. He made simplistic calculations, and asked questions which cast doubt on NEA’s efforts in supporting and promoting our hawker trade and culture,” it wrote.
According to the NEA, the current median monthly stall rental of non-subsidised cooked food stalls across all hawker centres is S$1,250, which it said is “much lower” than stall rentals at coffee shops and food courts.
“NEA has moderated hawker stall rents by disallowing subletting and assignment of hawker stalls. The removal of reserve rent since March 2012 means that bidders could successfully bid for hawker stalls at rates below the assessed market rent.
“To date, almost 40% of cooked food stalls are awarded to bids below 85% of the assessed market rent (which was the previous reserve rent level), with some as low as $1,” it asserted.
The agency stressed that it “does not keep” the fees for table cleaning and dishwashing services as the fees will be paid to table cleaning or dishwashing contractors for their services.
“In 2020, NEA had provided five-month rental waivers and three-month subsidies for table-cleaning and centralised dishwashing services to help our hawkers tide over the difficult period. Eligible hawkers also benefitted from the Self-Employed Person Income Relief of nine months.
“Beyond the rental waiver and subsidies provided by the Government, we hope that the public will continue to show their support to our hawkers, by patronising them through food deliveries or takeaways during this challenging period,” it said.
Netizens call for more transparency from the NEA
Mr Leong also shared the NEA’s statement on Friday (28 May), asking if the agency can provide more details on the breakdown of its revenue and expenditure in its management of hawker centres.
Several netizens commented on Mr Leong’s and the NEA’s Facebook posts, demanding the agency to provide the breakdown of its revenue, with one even commenting that the NEA was “diverting” instead of answering Mr Leong’s questions.
Another netizen wrote: “To remove all speculations, NEA just need to state the highest and lowest rental of hawker stalls and the related fees and services applied. Median stall rental has no meaning here.”