Saturday 12 May 2012

Most of Hawker Centres Public Consultation Panel's ideas accepted

Govt now looking at how to implement them; some already adopted
By Feng Zengkun, The Straits Times, 11 May 2012

THE Government has agreed with most of the recommendations of an expert hawker panel set up to rethink how hawker centres operate here.

It will now look at how best to implement them.

It had already adopted some of the ideas earlier, such as banning stall sublets and transfers in hawker centres and wet markets, which had driven up stall rents in some neighbourhoods.

It is now studying the rest of the recommendations: how to equip new hawkers with culinary know-how, how to have one single agency manage cleaning services for hawker centres, and how to introduce incentives to encourage environmentally-friendly behaviour from both patrons and stallholders.

The 18-member panel was appointed by Minister for the Environment and Water Resources Vivian Balakrishnan last year and submitted its final report to the ministry last month.

Seven new hawker centres in under-served areas like Bukit Panjang, Yishun, Pasir Ris and Jurong West will be built over the next five years.

One of the key recommendations by the panel was to have social enterprises run future hawker centres. The Environment Ministry said yesterday that it welcomes proposals by these non-profit organisations to co-manage them, but the Government 'retains oversight of hawker centre management'.

In a statement, it said that it is the Government's responsibility to ensure that hawker centres have a practical and sustainable management model, so that Singaporeans can continue to have cheap and good food. Ms Teo Mee Hong, executive director of the Social Enterprise Association here, said a partnership would benefit hawkers and their patrons, but the roles have to be clearly defined.

The Government, for example, could act as a financial safety net and tap its 26-year experience of operating hawker centres to give practical advice such as the ideal tenant mix.

The social enterprises could handle more on-the-ground duties, such as lowering costs by bulk-purchasing ingredients and ensuring each stall offers at least one low-cost dish.

Another idea the authorities are studying is to house social services providers such as day care centres in the same buildings as the food centres to foster social bonding.

But one thing is certain at least: visitors to the new hawker centres will find features such as tray return points, intended to promote social graciousness among patrons.

The National Environment Agency (NEA) also wants to promote greater participation from the public in designing the new hawker centres, and will launch an architectural design competition by the end of the month for the new Bukit Panjang hawker centre, scheduled to be completed within three years.

Ms Elim Chew, head of the panel and founder of fashion label 77th Street, said she was glad that the Environment Ministry had agreed with most of the panel's suggestions.

But she added that the ministry should have a management team at each of the new hawker centres to make sure stall rentals are affordable, so tenants can provide cheap and good food.

'Otherwise, the problems of high rentals and increasingly expensive food will continue in these new centres,' she said.

Plan for central agency to manage cleaning jobs
By Feng Zengkun, The Straits Times, 11 May 2012

A NEW plan by the National Environment Agency (NEA) could clean up dirty hawker centres here for good.

It said yesterday that it is studying if a single agency can manage the cleaning services of all existing hawker centres. Such a move would help ensure a high, consistent cleanliness standard in hawker centres across the country, it said.

The idea was mooted by a panel of experts set up to look into future plans for hawker centres.

Fashion entrepreneur and the panel's head Elim Chew said that a centralised agency could help lower cleaning costs for hawkers due to economies of scale.

Cleaning contracts at hawker centres here are currently managed by the NEA, the individual centres or their hawker associations.

The NEA said it would provide more details later, but some hawkers told The Straits Times that they would support the Government taking over the management of cleaning contracts.

Mr Victor Thya, 46, who operates a fruit juice stall in a Marine Parade hawker centre, said that the presence of the authorities could eliminate disputes between stallholders, their associations and cleaning companies.

He pays $340 a month towards a cleaning service shared with other stallholders. 'Sometimes, people ask for discounts or refuse to pay, or cleaners may not do a good job, and there's very little the rest of us can do about it.

'The Government can enforce the rules better than individual stallholders or associations.'

But stallholder Kelvin Tan, 47, who sells fish porridge at Chong Pang Market and Food Centre in Yishun, said the associations may be more nimble at handling changing demands on the ground.

He said: 'Some days, you need more cleaners and some days, you don't need them at all. It may be too troublesome if we have to go through a central agency every time we want to adjust the cleaning schedule.'

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