NEA: Hawkers’ plight no issue – fees up 2.5 times since DPC started?


Have hawkers’ miscellaneous fees increased by 2.5 times in the last 5 years, since NEA started its DPC (Department of Cleaning)?

I refer to the article “NEA defends operators: None of them has raised rental or operating costs” (theonlinecitizen, Oct 14).

It states that “Recently, food guru KF Seetoh from Makansutra published a series of blogs highlighting the dire situation those hawkers operating under the Social Enterprise Hawker Centre (SEHC) operators are in.

In particular, he published an open letter to Senior Minister of State Dr Amy Khor last Tuesday (9 Oct) imploring her to preserve Singapore’s public hawker centres. In essence, Mr Seetoh is against the government appointing 3rd-parties, the so-called “social enterprise” operators, to run publicly funded hawker centres.

In his letter, Mr Seetoh also shared many unfair commercial practices adopted by SEHC operators against hawkers, making it hard for hawkers to survive.

In an interview with ST today (‘Teething problems with new hawker centre model‘, 14 Oct), NEA told ST with regard to letting 3rd-party operators running hawker centres, “It is still at its early stage, and we should give it time to evolve.”

NEA added that it “monitors” the operators closely. For instance, the operators are not allowed to vary the charges to hawkers at any time during the tenancy term, it said.”

As to “Defending the SEHC operators, NEA said, “None of the operators has raised the rental or operating costs, including service charges that they had said they will charge the tenants at the start of the tenancy.”

NEA is currently run by a former SAF general – BG (NS) Tan Meng Dui” (“Hawkers’ feud with Koufu: NEA headed by BG says hawkers aware of charges before signing agreement‘, theonlinecitizen, Oct 13) – I hate to say this, but this must arguably, be the height of stupidity, ridiculousness, arrogance, etc.

Why would anyone who signs to start a contract, not agree to and be aware of, and ever complain straight away about the terms and conditions of the contract?

Are our generals – aliens from Mars or what?

NEA: Terms on premature termination in line with standard industry practice

With regard to “some of the unfair tenancy termination clauses in the agreement signed between Koufu’s subsidiary and hawkers, as highlighted in a recent Mr Seetoh’s blog, NEA said,”We note that the terms on premature termination are in line with standard industry practice.”

“Notwithstanding (this), we note Hawker Management’s (Koufu’s subsidiary) clarification that in practice, it exercises compassion and flexibility on a case-by-case basis, including not charging rents for the balance of the tenure in the event of premature termination.”

The agreement from Koufu’s subsidiary mandates that the hawker would need to continue to pay for the monthly stall rental until another suitable hawker is found for replacement, should a hawker decides to quit his stall half-way. If no hawker deemed suitable by the operator is found, the hawker who quits his stall would need to pay the monthly rental till the end of the tenancy term.

This so-called “standard industry practice” surfaced after a hawker selling noodles at Koufu’s subsidiary told Mr Seetoh about his plight. After a year of running losses, the hawker decided to quit and give up their $4k a month stall as they could not sustain the business.

“To my horror, they are made to pay up the remaining years and months of rent and fees left in their contract, or till another tenant is found,” Mr Seetoh wrote.

Since then, the hawker has moved out and started running his stall at a coffeeshop. “They now have to pay up the monthly ‘penalty’ fees in the SEHC and also for rents (at) their new stall,” Mr Seetoh highlighted.

As this particular hawker is still paying his monthly ‘penalty’ fees to Koufu’s subsidiary, it could only mean that the hawker, for unknown reasons, did not fall under Koufu management’s criteria for fee waiver during its “case-by-case” basis of determination process” – the Straits Times reported that “One Ms Phang, who operates a stall on the second level of Pasir Ris Central Hawker Centre, for example, said she pays $4,117 a month to the operator for her stall.

This includes $1,608 in rent, $350 in service and conservancy charges, a $550 table cleaning fee, $850 dishwashing fee, $150 cashless system fee, $40 for food waste recycling and $300 for concept and marketing. “We did not expect the footfall here to be so low,” said the 29-year-old, who declined to give her full name.

Hawker Yahya Ibrahim, 59, who sells Muslim food at the hawker centre at Our Tampines Hub, said his stall is required to be open for 20 hours a day, as the hawker centre is open around the clock.

“Between midnight and 6am, there are usually only two or three customers. But I still have to keep the stall open. As a result, I sleep only about five hours a night” – according to the article “Hawkers may soon outsource dishwashing” (Straits Times, Aug 5, 2013) – “Now, they typically pay cleaners S$200 to S$500 per month to wipe tables and return dirty dishes to the stalls.

Some top up about another S$500 a month for the dishes to be washed. Others do it themselves.

But with central dishwashing, the total cost is estimated to be as high as S$1,000 per month for participating hawkers”.

2013 – cleaning fees increased by as much as 156%?

Also, the monthly cleaning fees that some hawkers pay will increase by as much as 156 per cent, from $240 to $614 (“Hawkers hit out at hike in cleaning fees“, Straits Times, Sep 27, 2013).

From 2012 to now – fees increased by 2.5 times?

So, looking at the total fees of $2,509 now (total $4,117 – rental $1,608)– does it mean that the percentage increase from the average fees in 2012/2013, is about 2.5 times ($2,509 now divided by $1,000 in 2012/2013), before the Budget debate in 2012′s announcement that public cleaning will be under the new Department of Cleanliness (DPC) under the NEA?

So, how can the NEA now say that “It is still at its early stage, and we should give it time to evolve”, when this has arguably, been going on since 2012 (when the NEA started its DPC), at the expense of hawkers (and passed on to consumers)? 

Leong Sze Hian


About the Author

Leong Sze Hian has served as the president of 4 professional bodies, honorary consul of 2 countries, an alumnus of Harvard University, authored 4 books, quoted over 1500 times in the media , has been a radio talkshow host, a newspaper daily columnist, Wharton Fellow, SEACeM Fellow, columnist for theonlinecitizen and Malaysiakini, executive producer of Ilo Ilo (40 international awards), Hotel Mumbai (associate producer), invited to speak more than 200 times in about 40 countries, CIFA advisory board member, founding advisor to the Financial Planning Associations of 2 countries. He has 3 Masters, 2 Bachelors degrees and 13 professional  qualifications.