A netter wrote in to us to share that the problem with rising rental rates in hawkers lie in bidders who do not intent to become hawkers, but instead plan to further rent the stalls out for profit. He also shares that this is the situation at “Mei Xing Coffee Stall” in Old Airport Road Food Center.
I refer to K F Seetoh’s emotional appeal to all Singaporeans to not only support our hawkers but also local initiatives, while slamming the government for contributing to declining hawker trades and overall rapidly rising food prices.
While I totally agree with Seetoh’s cry, I would admonish him to look deeper at the issue. The problem lies not with rising rental rates and utilities alone but also with irresponsible, successful bidders who have no intention to become hawkers. Their purpose of bidding or buying over NTUC-managed hawker stalls is for the sole intent to rent out the stall at exorbitant prices to Citizens and PRs who are either unsuccessful in their bids or can’t afford to buy a stall in highly competitive areas.
Take for example “Mandy”, a China citizen and S’pore PR. She acquired a stall at Old Airport Rd Food Center #01-03 at commercial rates from the original owner who is now deceased, has absolutely no intention of running the stall and instead, manages her own cleaning company full time. She places a puppet “stall assistant” there who in turn, allows his mother to profit from the sales of beer when she purchase the crates to sell at the stall. Can you still expect affordable prices from this stall alone with many layers of profiteering in place?
I don’t know Mandy personally but her name and contact are listed on a laminated paper pasted on a stack of beer crates. I only discovered the stall is owned by her when the fake “stall assistant” she sublet to, let loose on the details publicly.
The “stall assistant” had 2 other middle age friends with his mother sitting together in front of the stall, breaching Covid restrictions. He was trying to recruit them for Mandy’s cleaning company but they declined to do cleaning jobs. The pleasant conversation between them later turned rowdy when the stall assistant’s mother started demanding part of the day’s taking as she yelled that the beers are “supplied” by her.
The neighbouring stalls are “immune” to the shoutings though customers are startled as stall #01-04 told me when I ordered dinner that “it’s like that” when they divide the “commissions”. The wonton mee stall holder further told me that #01-03 are people who are “more equal” than others under the law where they could commit assault and get away with it. Wanbao carried a report quite some time back that #01-03 had physically assaulted a female table cleaner but no action was taken against him and he could still continue operating as per normal.
With this scenario set firmly in motion and the severe lack of political will to tackle this persisting unscrupulous practice, how can one expect there to be a genuine hawker environment with affordable food prices? The same practice is currently in place at hawker centres across Albert Centre, Marine Parade Food Centre and People’s Park Food Centre itself, which has seen the single largest increase in food prices with their respective MPs, ignorant of these occurrences right under their nose.