Wednesday 3 April 2013

Hawker heritage 'in danger of dying out'

Not easy to find young Singaporeans willing to take up the job: Minister
By David Ee, The Straits Times, 2 Apr 2013

SINGAPORE'S rich hawker heritage is at risk of disappearing unless a new generation of hawkers replaces the veterans, a minister warned yesterday.

Minister for the Environment and Water Resources Vivian Balakrishnan said there is "real concern we will not succeed because of manpower".

He was speaking at his ministry's inaugural Partners Forum, organised to discuss with members of the public ways to build a more socially gracious and sustainable Singapore.

"It's easy to build (new hawker) centres. But the key challenge is to find enough Singaporeans who'd be willing to enter this profession, which is a difficult, challenging one."

The minister added that by keeping rentals low and training new hawkers, some young Singaporeans may be enticed, but that he "was under no illusions" about the difficulty of the task ahead.

The Government announced last October that it would build 10 new hawker centres by 2017, the first built since 1985.

Under current rules, only Singaporeans and permanent residents may run hawker stalls here.

"We have no intention of getting foreign hawkers in," said the minister.

Dr Balakrishnan added that another key challenge is to persuade veteran hawkers to pass on trade knowledge and know-how to youngsters wanting to take it up as a career.

One suggestion from forum participants was to elevate the appeal of being hawkers by awarding the accolades and status given to top chefs and treating hawkers like "national treasures", as in Japan.

Others proposed that a training institute be set up for retired veteran hawkers to teach their craft.

Hawker centres have "value far beyond the economics" of affordable food, as they bring Singaporeans of all stripes together and are "part of what has kept us cohesive as a society", added Dr Balakrishnan.

About 200 people from schools, non-governmental organisations and business attended the forum. Dignitaries such as Ambassador-at-large Tommy Koh were also in attendance.

Dr Balakrishnan was joined on the forum panel by Second Minister for the Environment and Water Resources Grace Fu, the National Environment Agency's chief executive Andrew Tan, and national water agency PUB's chief executive Chew Men Leong.

Adopting eco-friendly living and tackling the scourges of dengue and littering also dominated discussions.

The ministry wants the forum to be an annual affair. Said Dr Balakrishnan: "People didn't hold back. They gave us honest, useful, workable ideas, even in areas that we may have disagreements with. It will at least make us pause, reconsider and think about the best way to move forward."

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