SINGAPORE: The main cost drivers for running a hawker stall are "ingredients and manpower", while rental rates are a "small fraction" of the overall costs, said Minister for the Environment and Water Resources Vivian Balakrishnan in a Facebook post on Monday (Jul 27).
The MEWR Minister was responding to a Facebook post by a young hawker Douglas Ng, who runs the Fishball Story stall at Golden Mile Food Centre, who shared his observations on the challenges hawkers are facing when considering to bid for a stall at the new Bukit Panjang Hawker Centre run by NTUC Foodfare.
In Mr Ng's post on Sunday, he said basic ingredients are "so expensive", yet hawkers have to abide by a price ceiling set by the hawker centre operator. "How can we expect hawkers to make a decent living?" he wrote.
"They set a price for spaghetti S$5.80 and fishball noodle S$2.70. I just think it's not fair. Our costs are really high too," Mr Ng wrote.
"They said 'experts' have calculated these cost. Everything they say is transparent. I am a hawker myself...and I know about what costs are. It is only getting higher and it's tougher."
He ended his post noting that while it is a "gamble" to run a stall at the new hawker centre, he is willing to do so.
REDUCING RENTAL COSTS AT HAWKER CENTRES
In response, Dr Balakrishnan said hawker centres are a "unique feature of life in Singapore, where everyone can eat and socialise in an informal, unpretentious place with affordable and delicious local food".
He acknowledged that there have "always been questions about rental rates", and his ministry has reduced rental costs in three ways.
First, it has increased the supply of hawker stalls by building new centres, and second, stalls now have to be personally operated.
"They are not a way for landlords to make money," the Minister said. "We did this by removing the practice of assignments and subletting. This removed speculation from hawker rentals."
Third, it abolished the concept of "reserve rent" for hawker stalls, he said. In the past, NEA would reject bids less than 85 per cent of the assessed market rent, but now, it accepts "all valid competitive bids".
"Some stalls have been rented for as low as S$10 a month," Dr Balakrishnan said, adding that NEA publishes the results of tenders every month and results can be seen on the agency's website.
He added that he has "made it very clear" to NTUC Foodfare that they are not to charge high rents at the new hawker centre, with the priority being to have "good, affordable food for my residents in Bukit Panjang".
The Minister concluded by calling on Mr Ng and other potential hawkers to do their sums carefully. "Please do not bid high," he stressed.