International Business & Economy Amy Khor questioned on Jurong West Hawker Centre tray return policy, Minister...

Amy Khor questioned on Jurong West Hawker Centre tray return policy, Minister maintains radio silence

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Several members of the public have questioned the Senior Minister of State (SMOS) for Environment and Water Resources Amy Khor on why hawkers have to pay the customer 20 cents for returning the tray. They were referring to news that some hawkers at Jurong West Hawker Centre have petitioned the National Environment Agency (NEA) for the operator to remove the fee of 20 cents for each returned tray.

The petition, signed by 12 hawkers, was submitted in August and also sent to Koufu, which runs the hawker centre through its social enterprise subsidiary Hawker Management. The hawkers are claiming that Jurong West Hawker Centre, which opened a year ago, is the only one in Singapore where stallholders are the ones paying for patrons to return their trays. Customers at the hawker centre do not pay anything to take a tray when they buy food, but receive 20 cents when they return their tray.

One Facebook user commenting on Dr Khor’s Facebook post that “Hawkers are a part of Singapore’s culture”, said: “I am inviting you to come to 50 Jurong West Hawker Center to see the operation of the Center and have a meet session with the hawkers.”

In her post from Oct 11, Dr Khor had said:

“Many of us have favourite hawkers whom we know well and connect with through our shared love of food.

To sustain the hawker trade, National Environment Agency (NEA) has rolled out many programmes to support new hawkers. I visited 3 young hawkers under the Incubation Stall Programme (ISP) yesterday. I am happy that they are doing well, and hope their experience will encourage others to join the trade.

Launched in Feb this year, the programme has been well-received by aspiring hawkers, especially among young Singaporeans. More than 40 applicants have applied, and 10 out of the 13 incubation stalls in various hawker centres are currently occupied. To allow more aspiring hawkers to apply, NEA will be adding two more stalls under the programme.

Similar programmes are also offered by the private sector to encourage and help aspiring hawkers. We hope that the joint efforts by the public and private sectors will safeguard our hawker culture for future generations of Singaporeans.”

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Another Facebook user asked the SMOS: “I wonder if it is it true that when customers return their tray, the hawkers need to pay back 20 cents.” He added later: “(It is) strange that we still want to bid for recognition by UNESCO for our hawker culture, when we are killing hawker culture with high rental and operating cost.”

The SMOS maintained silence and did not respond to any of the questions raised on her post.

Today online reported on Oct 11 that one petitioner against Koufu’s tray refund policy said the hawkers’ “monthly overhead costs include S$1,100 in washing and collection fees, S$250 in service fees and S$300 for an automated cash machine allocated to each stall — making up a total of nearly S$4,000 per month.”

Netizens commenting on the topic noted that besides the tray return cost, the charge for washing and collecting utensils ($1,100) seems very high. Some said that with such fees, the hawkers can individually hire their own dishwashers.

The Online Citizen reported on Oct 14 that Hawker Management is owned by Koufu Group, which in turn founded by Pasir Ris-Punggol GRC grassroots leader Pang Lim.

The socio-political website said: “Koufu in fact, just went public recently in July this year. Mr Pang Lim (PBM), is also the Vice-Chairman of Punggol 21 CC Building Fund Committee as well as Patron of Punggol North CCC and Punggol 21 CCMC.

“As a matter of fact, Hawker Management had outsourced its dish washing and table cleaning services to GreatSolutions Pte Ltd, a subsidiary of another public listed company GS Holdings Ltd, founded by Mr Pang Pok. According to disclosure in its annual report, Mr Pang Pok is the brother of Mr Pang Lim.

“And the fine prints at the bottom of page 44 further disclosed that Mr Pang Pok’s company would provide “centralised on and off-premise dishwashing and table top cleaning” services to Hawker Management, Mr Pang Lim’s company, at $63,775 per month. An initial 3-year contract was signed between the 2 brothers’ companies in Sep last year.

“Incidentally, Mr Pang Pok himself is also a grassroots leader.”

In responding to a question from the Workers’ Party in Parliament on Oct 1 if social enterprises managing hawker centres are audited to prevent the use of hidden fees and charges, Dr Khor said that operators of hawker centres have to inform potential stallholders of rental and operating charges before signing any agreement with them.

“They are not permitted to vary these charges over the term of the tenancy,” she added.

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