SINGAPORE — The high rental costs of the Ramadan bazaar held at Geylang Serai this year have sparked controversy and drawn complaints and criticism from both stallholders and members of the public.
Kf Seetoh, the founder of Makansutra, had earlier quipped that the Geylang Serai Ramadan Bazaar is “easily the world’s most expensive pasar malam stall”.
The bazaar – the longest-running, at 36 days – began on 17 March to coincide with the Hari Raya light-up in Geylang Serai, and will continue until 21 April. Hari Raya Puasa, which marks the end of the fasting month, falls on 22 April.
The annual event is organised by Wisma Geylang Serai (WGS), the social and cultural heritage hub in Geylang Serai led by the People’s Association.
Local media outlets have reported how some vendors struggled with the “high bids needed to secure a space,” with rent ranging from S$15,000 to S$30,000 for one unit for food and beverage stalls.
Food stalls promised “exclusivity on ‘Kebab’ and ‘Burger’ food sellers” are offered at a higher rent than other F&B stalls.
There are about 20 exclusive F&B booths out of a total of 150 F&B booths allowed.
However, the Straits Times reported how an exclusive F&B stall selling kebabs with a rental of S$24,000 was faced with a situation where another kebab shop popped up less than 50m from his stall.
Some of the stallholders had told Channel News Asia that they regret to take up a stall at the bazaar. One of the Kebab sellers Mr Hasan, said, “We’re all losing money. (We) cannot cover costs, cannot even cover rent.”
A worker at a neighbouring Ramly burgers stall also echoed the same sentiment.
Besides the high rent, stallholders also have to pay for power points, sinks, lights and tables from the organisers. One stallholder told ST that he is spending around S$100,000 altogether.
Nearly 30 per cent of the 700 stalls at the bazaar were earlier reported to be empty.
The organizers then offered a solution to fill the vacant stalls at the bazaar by allowing businesses that are unable to pay the rental fee in full upfront to instead pay a percentage of their sales to the organizers after the event concludes.
Under this arrangement, a portion of the sales, such as $2 or $3 for every $10 earned, will be taken by the organizers depending on the value of the rented space.
In a subsequent press statement on 24 March by WGS, the take-up rates for F&B booths stood at 95 per cent and 80 per cent for retail.
Bazaar tendered out at S$2.26 million
Trade fairs, bazaar or commonly known as Pasar Malam, can only be held by grassroots organisations, charities or town councils.
The operating right to the annual Ramadan Bazaar was tendered out by PA in November last year.
A total of 7 tenderers bid for the tender on GeBiz, an electronic procurement system used by the Singaporean government for government procurement activities.
A consortium of three companies, S-Lite Event Support, TLK Trade Fair and Events, and Enniche Global Trading, won the bid at an award value of $2.26 million, the second highest bid of the seven—the highest being at S$2.53 million by Chili Padi Auto, a company dealing with automotive.
No control over rental
The tender document does not regulate the pricing of the stalls, but it does set limits on the number of food stalls that can be established at 80 and 70 for the two designated bazaar sites.
Additionally, it specifies that at least 60 per cent of the food stalls should sell Hari Raya/Ramadhan traditional food, and at least 80 per cent of non-food stalls should offer items associated with the traditional festival.
Furthermore, the total number of live-cooked food stalls that require a Singapore Food Agency (SFA) permit, such as Burger Ramlee and Kebab stalls, should not exceed 150.
There are, however, no restrictions on the number of non-live cooked food stalls.
Winning tenderer to run the whole show, WGS barely doing much else
Although WGS was listed as the organising authority for the bazaar, the winning tenderer was responsible for running most, if not all, of the event and paying the tendered amount to the grassroots organization.
A check on the tender document, laid out various responsibilities and obligations of the contractor in relation to the operation of the bazaar.
On top of providing manpower to oversee the operation of the bazaar, the operator has to perform the following duties:
- Complying with instructions and requirements of the Authority and relevant government authorities, obtaining and maintaining all necessary permits, and ensuring that all Stallholders also obtain and maintain requisite permits.
- Ensuring that Stallholders and their employees, servants, and agents comply with legal and regulatory requirements, and shall take necessary steps to ensure compliance.
- Bearing all costs, fees, expenses, charges, and payments in connection with the Tender and the Fair, including permits/licenses, rent, utilities, services, security, pest control, and other fees imposed by relevant authorities.
- Providing 24-hour electrical support to food stalls and installing sufficient numbers of CCTVs (3 food stalls to 1 CCTV) and security patrol officers to monitor food hygiene standards and ensure compliance with regulations.
Additionally, the winning tenderer for the bazaar needs to provide a COVID-19 response plan to the Authority, which should include Safe Management Measures.
They are also required to set up a satellite bazaar inspection post in an air-conditioned office with basic office infrastructure for government agencies such as the Police and Singapore Food Agency (SFA) to use.
The consortium told CNA that the costs of setting up the bazaar came up to nearly S$2.5 million this year. This is on top of the amount that they have to pay WGS.
These would suggest that WGS essentially received the S$2.26 million by issuing the tender without doing anything else.