Last Friday, Mr Edwin Tong, Minister for Culture, Community and Youth said that a substantial amount of the tender for the Geylang Serai Ramadan Bazaar goes back into the light-up, the organisation of the event itself, and ensuring that the programming… drives footfall to the event, and also People’s Association (PA) and Wisma Geylang Serai’s main agenda to ensure that the festive occasion is celebrated appropriately.
Mr Tong, who is also the deputy chairman of PA, was responding on Friday to a parliamentary question from Mr Muhamad Faisal Abdul Manap, Workers’ Party MP for Aljunied GRC, on how the PA ensures stall rentals at trade fairs and bazaars remain affordable to stallholders.
He noted that the annual bazaar is run by a professional operator who wins the project in an open tender process, which reflects the market price and that interested operators decide what the market price would be and make a bid based on that.
Mr Tong said that the point is to get the bidder with the best expertise, experience and proposal to manage and run the bazaar, and not necessarily the highest bidder.
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.
Trade fairs, bazaar or commonly known as Pasar Malam, can only be held by grassroots organisations, charities or town councils.
According to Mr Tong, the bazaar has been handled by Wisma Geylang Serai, a cultural heritage integrated hub under PA, since 2019.
The operating right to the annual Ramadan Bazaar was tendered out 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.
Tender evaluation criteria incentivise high bids
Mubarak Shah, who claims to have experience with the annual Geylang Serai Ramadan Bazaar, commented on Facebook earlier this month that the main issue regarding the tendering for the right to run the bazaar is that the government incentivise the highest bidder.
“If you want to win the bazaar, you need to make sure that your bid fits the bill, ” the netizen, who goes by name Mubarak Shah, wrote in his Facebook post that the awarding decision is based on three factors, price, concept and experience.
He explained that for the last few tenders, in which he recalled that price considerations were significantly lower, it was in 2018 about 40%; hence it was possible for concepts which took 60% in the same year, to be able to win the bazaar’s tender for the first time in history.
“That was the year which I was part of the bazaar with Enniche Events, ” he said and noted that prior to it, price was the determining factor to win the tender.
This is why the organisers who won the bazaar was “people with deep pockets” and no chance for organisers like themselves to win the bid, said Mubarak.
According to Mubarak, who lists in his Linkedin project as a project manager at Enniche Events between 2011 and 2020, said: “Today in 2023, it has returned back to the good old days, 50% price”.
Mubarak seems to be wrong about the weightage of the price as, according to PA’s tender, the price takes up 60% of the evaluation criteria to win the tender.
With the price once again the primary consideration, Mubarak said it doesn’t matter how good your concept is if your price is “shit” to the “approving body”.
Mubarak further criticised that “the approving body” has gone back to their “old ways of making money first and not the people”; hence the organisers, too, have to follow suit to be able to win.
He explained that if the approving body really cares about the people paying high rent, they should prioritize the concept over price by making it 70% and price 30%. This would render the price offered by organizers irrelevant.
“But they don’t. So don’t fault the organisers for high rent, they NEED to cover the cost so that they can make money, which is not wrong to want to make money, that’s a none issue. ”
He added that the biggest earners of the event are not the organizers, who work hard to make the bazaar memorable for the community.
“For so many years, the bazaar was utter rubbish till we won in 2018 and put on a show for the people. However due to adjustments in the awarding process good concepts can never win again. People with deep pockets will.”
According to media reports, the consortium spent around S$5 million on expenses which included the S$2.26 million tender bid.
While Mr Tong claims that a substantial amount of the S$2.26 million went to doing up the lighting for the bazaar, but we ought to note that PA is receiving S$597.17 million to hold its programme and run its grassroots organisation, which includes organising events for festive events.
Manpower costs for the curation of the cultural programmes should easily be covered by the staff of Wisma Geylang Serai, is there double counting of expenses in this case?
Furthermore, is Mr Tong saying that the lighting for the annual Hari-Raya this year light up costs nearly S$2.26 million?
It is unknown if similar bazaars are organised for festive events like Christmas, Deepavali and Chinese New Year that raise monies for the local grassroots to pay for the lighting.
A check on Gebiz shows no tender for Geylang Serai’s lighting.
According to the requirements of the tender, Wisma Geylang Serai outsources basically every aspect of the organising of the bazaar to the winning tenderer.