Government to go ahead with SEHC model for new food centres
But social enterprise scheme will be tweaked to better serve patrons and ensure well-being of hawkers, Masagos tells Parliament
Hawker centres run by social enterprises, which came under fire recently, will be tweaked to better cater to customers and look after the welfare of hawkers.
Environment and Water Resources Minister Masagos Zulkifli told Parliament yesterday that despite some implementation challenges, the new socially conscious enterprise hawker centre (SEHC) scheme is sound.
Critics of the scheme had complained that it has unnecessary rules and burdens operators with additional costs.
In a lively debate, Mr Masagos and Senior Minister of State for Environment and Water Resources Amy Khor fielded 19 questions from MPs.
Some questioned the social benefits of the SEHC model and asked why the hawker centres could not be under the National Environment Agency (NEA), like other food centres.
Mr Masagos said: "It is not enough to keep doing things the same way."
He noted some existing hawker centres face challenges such as ageing stallholders, manpower constraints and changing demands of customers.
"This is why we are trialling the SEHC model for our new hawker centres," he said.
"As with any trials and experiments, we cannot always get it right the first time.
"Give the model time to adapt, adjust and optimise the outcomes we seek to achieve."
Mr Masagos also said SEHC operators could inject new ideas and innovation to improve quality and variety, including bringing in famous recipes and younger hawkers.
Dr Khor said the ministry is committed to improving the SEHC model and will seek operators who are socially conscious, can provide affordable good food, ensure a decent living for hawkers, and enhance the vibrancy of hawker centres.
She added: "We favour operators who offer lower rentals and total operating costs.
"They cannot raise these costs throughout the term of the tenancy agreement."
Some MPs called for clarifications on how the operating surplus can be pumped back into the hawker centres to benefit the community.
In response, Dr Khor said the support will come in the form of meal vouchers or training of hawkers, for example.
However, she said none of the SEHCs that have submitted their accounts had a surplus.
She also clarified that the operating costs at SEHCs, which usually include components such as dishwashing and table-cleaning charges, are comparable to the fees at NEA-run hawker centres.
However, hawkers from the Pasir Ris Central Hawker Centre told The New Paper that high operating costs remain a concern.
They said they have to pay fees for marketing and food recycling, which they felt was unnecessary.
One of them, who wanted to be known only as Gwen, said: "I'm glad there are subsidies (for dishwashing services), but what is going to happen after that? We can't expect to rely on the Government forever. Eventually, it will fall back to the question of high costs."
Another hawker in her late 20s, who did not want to be named, said: "We are being charged for things like marketing and live bands, but we don't see an increase in footfall. In fact, sales have dropped."
But Mr Masagos noted in Parliament that SEHCs have largely achieved good outcomes, providing a range of affordable quality food and staying open longer than older centres.
He said hawkers are also doing well, citing the new Bukit Panjang and Ci Yuan hawker centres, where 96 per cent and 97 per cent of them respectively have renewed their contracts.
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