Social Enterprise Hawker Centres Face Scrutiny In Parliament

Talk about a piping hot topic.

A grand total of 19 questions were tabled in Parliament on Monday (19 Nov) regarding the issue of Social Enterprise Hawker Centres (SEHCs).

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All of which have come under scrutiny in recent weeks for allegedly squeezing the profit margins of hawkers due to their policies.

The Old Airport Road Hawker fiasco, Jurong West Hawker Centre’s tray return saga and KF Seetoh’s post warning of the ‘death of hawkers‘ as we know it, have raised concerns among Singaporeans about whether hawkers can make ends meet. What with the costs of dishwashing, tray-return & consultancy fees being uncovered on social media.

Let’s take a look at what Environment and Water Resources Minister Masagos Zulkifli had to say about the matter.

Majority of hawkers are “doing well” at SEHCs

Minister Masagos felt that food prices remain affordable, with “high-quality” options available for visitors. Most of all, he stated that the prices are comparable to nearby coffee shops.

In his own words,

Majority of hawkers are doing well at the SEHCs. We should not undo these achievements.

Instead, he asked for patience from the public, so SEHCs can “adapt” to achieve the desired outcomes — low cost food and a sustainable business model for hawkers.

Since the concept of SEHCs is only 3 years old, Mr Masagos states that it has been “generally sound” since its establishment in 2015. Hawkers in SEHCs are also 43 years on average, lower than 60-year-old average age in regular hawker centres.

Initiatives like “centralised dishwashing” ensure cleanliness and productivity in SEHCs and reducing the strain on hawkers, which could in turn help “sustain our hawker trade”.

G’ment shouldn’t intervene unnecessarily

If the government were to “intervene unnecessarily” that could affect “fair competition”, according to the minister.

As of right now, he feels that “market forces” help “better hawkers replace those who are less suited for the trade”, and ultimately benefit residents.

Ministries would thus not be able to subsidise hawkers, but the model should ensure transparent and fair rentals and costs for all.

Feedback, however, from the residents has been duly noted, and the government will be adjusting the “model to better serve Singaporeans”.

Mr Masagos stressed that,

As with any trials and experiments, we cannot always get it right the first time.

For a good cause

While we don’t doubt that the SEHC model was started with the best of intentions in mind, perhaps a timely review would be necessary to ensure that costs are as transparent and fair as intended.

Since the issue is still up for debate, we can consider this a small win for now.

And we have KF Seetoh to thank for bravely speaking up on behalf of hawkers in Singapore.

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What do you think should be done to tweak the SEHC model to help both hawkers and consumers? Sound out in the comments below.

Featured image from gov.sg on YouTube.