Six Months Is Up (aka Hawker Centres As Public Goods)

Six months ago, during the May 2011 general election, PAP led a campaign to ask hawkers to “voluntarily” hold prices for six months as one of the ways to “address” the cost of living.

Today reported on 30 Oct 11:

“A public consultation panel, to be chaired by Elim Chew, will be set up to gather feedback on the 10 new hawker centres that will be built over the next decade.

Dr Balakrishnan said the panel – expected to be formed by next month – will serve as a focal point for members of the public to submit their ideas in three key areas: Not-for-profit management models, design and community integration of the hawker centres.

“Hawker centres are a unique part of Singapore life but I don’t want to just replicate and roll out what we already have,” he said.

“I’m looking for innovative and new ideas … we can do it in consultation with the local public. I think it will be so much better and so much more relevant.”

I guess six months is up, and now the Govt has to do something more concrete than asking hawkers to observe another six-month moratorium on price increases.

I don’t understand why a street fashion retailer is being asked to “chair” a hawker centre panel. Notwithstanding this, I’d like to point out that:

a. There’s no reason why “not-for-profit” management models should be limited to the 10 new hawker centres to be built.

b. Do we really need a “panel” to come up with a “not-for-profit” “management model”? The rents are set by the Govt, and all that’s needed is for the Govt to reduce rents– if that does not amount to “raiding” the reserves.

Street food is one of the greatest distinctions between Asian and Western countries. Apart from the colour and flavour, it is what allows Asians to live on a paltry income.

Hawker centres are a Singaporean govt invention to clean up the streets by housing hawkers into a common location. Inevitably, it led to licensing (for both tax collection and public health reasons) and regulation and commercialisation of what was once a freewheeling street enterprise.

Fast forward to the 90s, the Govt started tendering out hawker stalls to the highest bidder. The most famous tender resulted in Johnson Lok tendering over $10,000 for a duck rice stall.

Between the system of tendering for hawker stalls and “voluntary” price moratoriums, no wonder hawkers felt they were squeezed.

I have a suggestion for the Minister: Just lower rents for hawker centres.

One does not need a high-powered panel to come up with brilliant “management” models for what essentially is just a centralised point for street food vendors.

While there have been reports of some successful hawkers driving multiple Mercedes and under-declaring their incomes, the truth is that it is a competitive business that doesn’t pay well for the vast majority of hawkers.

In fact, I would even suggest the Govt not collect rents at all. Treat hawker centres like public parks or libraries, ie as a other public good which the Govt provides to the public so that everyone can enjoy its benefits upon society.


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4 Responses to Six Months Is Up (aka Hawker Centres As Public Goods)

  1. Elaine says:

    When I read this announcement, I figured it was a new form of political tai-chi: any subsequent mistakes and ensuing unhappiness (and there’s no doubt that there will be some) will not be blamed on the govt, but on the pte sector panel. Brilliant.

  2. Simon Says says:

    A simple open-n-shut case they need to call for committee to evaluate?
    The Flood committee aka expensive consultants have been on it for 6mths now? What did PUB do concretely to alleviate the recent flood again? This time they can’t blame computer glitch, but instead blame contractor for 1 faulty blockage!? Come on PAP, this is what you use public money for – water-soluble solutions?

  3. Old Singaporean says:

    Expect to see more of such Tai Chi model of governance that was kicked off with the review of ministerial salaries (and hopefully pension),

    Anyway, I agree that rental of hawker centres should be kept to a minimum, if not removed altogether. Usually it is the landlords that are making the money through rents while the hawkers are bottom feeders in the capitalistic scheme of things. That is why I was aghast when the HDB wanted to sell off wet markets to companies like Sheng Shiong.

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