Despite the Bukit Panjang Hawker Centre and Market being in operation for a short three years, many sellers on level two have expressed thoughts of leaving, claiming that they were “forced out of Bukit Panjang Hawker Market Level 2 with all the nasty problems from the New Management”, NTUC Foodfare.

The Bukit Panjang Hawker Centre and Market first opened in December of 2015, under NTUC Foodfare, and offered affordable food and fresh produce.

However, many of the market stall owners on Level 2 there told The Independent that they attributed the lack of customers to the closure of a minimart named The Pasar Store. They allege that up to 20 per cent of their sales dropped following this.

In speaking to NTUC Foodfare, they said, that when NTUC FairPrice ceased operations on level two, tenants were offered a six-month (November 2018 – April 2019) tenancy renewal period to assess if they wished to continue their business.

“Upon the 6-month lease expiry in Apr, 14 market stall and lock-up stall tenants expressed interest in continuing their business and signed the lease agreement with NTUC Foodfare for another 30 months”, NTUC Foodfare said.

Many of the market stall operators facing issues have stalls on Level two. Their complaints start with an elevator that frequently breaks down, making the second level inaccessible except by stairs.

A hawker we spoke to questioned, “How come the lifts and escalators keep breaking down so frequently especially since this Bukit Panjang Hawker Market is about 3-4 years old and considered a relatively NEW Hawker Market?”

This, coupled with not many other stalls makes it harder for the hawkers on level two to attract customers.

A market stall operator on level two said, “Actually, we have our own difficulties and hardships in our lives. But we still keep our fort in continuing our business as usual everyday. We never ask for any help at all. WHY in the end, we have to be “forced out” of Bukit Panjang Hawker Market Level 2 with all the nasty problems from the new management NTUC Foodfare after we just signed and renewed our new contract? So Sad Right?”

According to a report in the Chinese daily Lianhe Wanbao, the vegetables seller on level two renewed her contract in May for five months but has no choice but to close down at the end of July. She said that the miscellaneous fees per month is about $700 but suggested that when business isn’t doing well, the management could give rebates on rental or miscellaneous fees to help reduce the burden on the stall owners.

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The Lianhe Wanbao also reported that for the seafood stall in the past, his fish would be sold out within 1 to 2 hours but now, even after a whole day, there would still be fish left over.

The stallholder told reporters that he only earns about $100 a day. After subtracting the base cost, its still not enough to even pay for rental. His monthly rental and miscellaneous fees add up to about $1000, more than other stalls.

Some of the stallholders mentioned that there was an error in the system and they were charged stamp duty twice. They also said that the second tax entry was only a reference to the amount paid for stamp duty previously and that there wasn’t a second payment charged.

When asked about this, NTUC Foodfare responded saying that “Upon investigation, it is found that there is no double billing, except for 1 stall tenant due to a system glitch”.

The holders alleged that that they were told by the management to pay via cashiers orders – something they were not accustomed to – and that instructions passed on to them were not through official letters or channels. They alleged that payment notices were scribbled unofficially and that they were not given proper notice by the management.

The tenants from level two also griped about the poor maintenance of the market and complained about dirty ledges, corridors and fans.

They added, “It was ONLY until we had to “threaten” this Stubborn New Management by NTUC Foodfare that we were taking all these dirty corridor ledges photo evidences to NEA. Then this stubborn new management NTUC Foodfare then called the cleaning contractor people to clean the Dirty Corridors Ledges about 2-3 days later”.

“Scoldings NO use on this stubborn New Management NTUC Foodfare. Must go to the extent of “threaten”. From all these silly experiences, WHY do we Level 2 market stalls have to pay our monthly Conservancy Fees ($300-$400) every month for each stall to the current new management? Since we Level 2 market stalls have to always “play the role of NEA inspectors” to “threaten” in order to maintain the Level 2 Market general cleanliness” they griped.

To this, NTUC Foodfare says that not only do they observe a cleaning schedule, general cleaning and sweeping is performed on a daily basis. They added that cleaning was conducted recently from 24th to 26th June 19 and the most recent spring cleaning was conducted from 10th to 11th June 19.

NTUC Foodfare’s full statement:

When NTUC FairPrice ended its operation on level 2, our market stall and lock-up stall tenants expressed interest to continue operating in the same location. They were offered a 6-month (Nov 18 – Apr 19) tenancy renewal period by NTUC FairPrice. This allows them the flexibility to assess their business viability after the departure of the Pasar store, before committing to a longer lease term. Upon the 6-month lease expiry in Apr, 14 market stall and lock-up stall tenants expressed interest in continuing their business and signed the lease agreement with NTUC Foodfare for another 30 months.

Letters of confirmation of interest stipulating the payable security deposit, rental and service & conservancy fee were presented to tenants who have expressed interest to renew their lease . This was to give notice for the tenants to prepare the payment in order to secure a stall. After which, we issued the official tenancy agreement upon awarding the stalls to the successful tenants.  Currently, we have 19 stalls in operation out of the 28 stalls on level 2.

We have received feedback on suspected double billing of the stamp duty in the stall tenant’s July statement. Upon investigation, it is found that there is no double billing, except for 1 stall tenant due to a system glitch. The stamp duty invoice was reflected in the July’s statement to account for the payment made in May. As proof of payment, the IRAS receipt was mailed with the tenancy agreement to the tenants’ registered mailing address in June, with us retaining the certificates of posting. Our operations team has clarified with the tenants who raised their concern.

We observe a cleaning schedule for the centre maintenance. General cleaning (i.e. corridors and accessible ledge) and sweeping are performed on a daily basis while high dusting cleaning such as fans cleaning are conducted fortnightly. Cleaning was conducted recently from 24th to 26th June 19. In addition, spring cleaning is performed by an appointed cleaning contractor on a quarterly basis, and the most recent spring cleaning was conducted from 10th to 11th June 19. As with the practice at all hawker centres, stall tenants are responsible for the cleaning of the space within their own stalls. During the spring cleaning, the tenants are informed ahead to keep their belongings within their stalls to prevent tampering.  

Other than running vibrancy programmes to promote footfall to the centre, we are enriching the tenant mix on level 2 as we continue to work to fill the vacant stalls. 

As we have only taken over the wet market’s stall tenancies in May 2019, work is in progress for the future planning of level 2 market. We are conducting a survey to understand the residents’ needs and expectations to ensure that our plans serve the residents’ needs. It is also in our interest that our tenants operate a vibrant business so that together we can better serve the needs of our community. We seek our tenants’ understanding and patience.

In terms of stall tenant engagement, our operations team conducts monthly walkabouts to engage the tenants, take in their feedback and concerns to render our support. We maintain an open communication with our tenants so they may contact us for assistance or clarification at any time.