In the stagnant and stifling environment of Singapore, debate is mostly choreographed and feedback comes in ever so polite conversations among group-thinkers. But once in a while, something happens that renews my faith in Singaporeans’ ability to see through the official bullshit.
Amy Khor and the NEA probably thought their idea of letting a non-profit social enterprise run the centre would help – to keep alive the hawker food culture and to control prices. In the same way NTUC Fairprice (ex-Welcome) was supposed to make sure groceries remain affordable for Singaporeans. Not many people would agree that the prices at Fairprice supermarkets today are low. Many items are priced higher than those sold in neighbourhood shops.
But never mind Fairprice. Let’s talk about the NEA initiative. Trouble started for the agency when a number of hawkers were unhappy about having to pay customers 20 cents for the return of each tray. That added to the total cost of paying for rental, dish-washing and so on, making it difficult for them to earn a decent living. And they must have calculated that something was not quite right.
In came food guru K F Seetoh to speak on behalf of the hawkers. He wrote an impassioned blog highlighting the hawkers’ plight:“They are supposed to be opened 24hrs a day with two days off. And a $250 fine for each other day they close if they did not give a week’s notice which is approved by the managing agent. Imagine if they or their child or parents have some medical or family emergency. The managing agent can up the penalty to $500 a day if they see fit.
“Come on – it’s ok to do so like they all do in private enterprise food courts or halls. Charge as much as you want and pay as much as you dare. It’s market forces at play, willing buyer and seller deals – but not in a public funded and owned SEHC (Social Enterprise Hawker Centre) or hawker centre please. You have the obligation to protect the common citizen’s economic meal and not raise unnecessary cost for hawkers and customers….Cut them some slack..They need help to flourish, not rules and penalties.”
To throw more fuel into the fire, here are some other facts disclosed in social media.
The Jurong West Hawker Centre is run by Koufu through its social enterprise subsidiary, Hawker Management. Koufu is founded by Pasir Ris-Punggol GRC grassroots leader Pang Lim, PBM, who is also Vice-Chairman of Punggol 21 CC Building Fund Committee as well as Patron of Punggol North CCC and Punggol 21 CCMC.
Hawker Management has outsourced its dish washing and table cleaning services to GreatSolutions Pte Ltd, a subsidiary of another public listed company GS Holdings Ltd. GS Holdings is founded by Pang Pok. According to disclosure in its annual report, Pang Pok is the brother of Pang Lim.
The fine print in the hawkers’ contract disclosed that Pang Pok’s company would provide “centralised on and off-premise dishwashing and table top cleaning” services to Hawker Management, Pang Lim’s company, at $63,775 per month. An initial three-year contract was signed between the two brothers’ companies in September last year.
So, what is happening here in Jurong West? Last I read, the hawker centre has scrapped the 20-cents return move, with the centre’s operator agreeing to collect a refundable 20 cents deposit from customers.
This is life in Singapore, many would say. The well-to-do live in their own bubble of full service restaurants (no deposit, no carrying of tray, smiling waiters and chefs and cashiers). The lower-income earners pay deposits for trays and order their meals from angry tenants who have not many nice things to say about slow-to-respond Amy Khor and the NEA.
But, do you know what is the really, really scary thing?
If the mini scam had not made it into social media, if K F Seetoh had not thown his support behind the hawkers, if Donald Low had not entered the fray to defend Seetoh against some unwarranted attack, nothing would have happened in Jurong West. And if nothing had happened in Jurong West, the hawkers would have their wholly justified gripes swept aside and whitewashed. Even now, it may be whitewashed in an anodyne NEA review – in the hope that Singaporeans would forget the fiasco and have the same practices sneaked in and perpetuated in perhaps all the hawker centres across the island.
Don’t let that happen.
Rape case: “Penis was large but not hard”
Perhaps a good defence for someone accused of rape would be that he was suffering from erectile dysfunction. This came up during the trial of Dr Wee Teong Boo who was alleged to have raped a 23-year-old patient in his clinic.
Two earlier tests had different results. One showed him to be normal, the other that he was suffering from erectile dysfunction. A defence witness, Dr Srinam Narayanan, in describing the first test result as “pristine”, : “I wish I have that kind of results when I am 64 (years old).” Wee was in his 60s in 2016.
Dr Narayan conducted a third test. It confirmed that Wee had erectile dysfunction and the lowest Erection Hardness Score of 1.
This indicates a penis that is larger but not hard. The highest score of 4 means full hardness and rigidity, he said.
“The first test was an absolutely normal result, which doesn’t fit in with everything else (Wee’s medical history of diabetes and high blood pressure). I don’t know how to explain that,” said Dr Narayanan, who is also an adjunct assistant professor at the National University of Singapore’s Yong Loo Lin School of Medicine.
Wee’s case will be heard again on Oct 23.
Tan Bah Bah is a former senior leader writer with The Straits Times. He was also managing editor of a local magazine publishing company.