The face of the Government’s policies to do with hawkers and hawker centres, Senior Minister of State for the Environment and Water Resources Dr Amy Khor, revealed in a recent interview that she is the daughter of a hawker herself.
Speaking to Mothership in an interview published last week, Dr Khor revealed that her mother used to run a Chinese dessert stall at Alexandra Hill Primary School, the school Dr Khor attended as a young child.
Sharing that she would rise at 3am during her primary and secondary school years to assist her mother in preparing the food she sold at the school, Dr Khor told reporters that she would run delivery rounds, selling the food her mother makes to the schoolteachers at double the price that students are charged.
Her mother’s stall was where Dr Khor spent a large portion of her younger days – she told the local publication that she would study at the stall and indicated that her days at the stall during her formative years shaped the rest of her life.
The publication reported that today, Dr Khor’s son has followed her love for hawker culture and that the 28-year-old goes on “weekly hawker food hunts” besides accompanying his grandmother to hawker centres where she catches up with her friends.
Like Dr Khor and her family, hawker culture is near and dear to many Singaporeans. Earlier, hawker culture was recognised as a vital part of Singaporean culture and identity during the National Heritage Board’s public engagement campaign that aimed to identify aspects of intangible cultural heritage Singaporeans value.
Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong subsequently announced during his National Day Rally Speech this year that the nation is nominating hawker culture to the UNESCO Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.
In the months that followed, however, shocking revelations of the hefty costs and difficult conditions hawkers at the new Social Enterprise Hawker Centres (SEHCs) outraged Singaporeans.
The National Environment Agency (NEA) – a Government statutory board under the Ministry of the Environment and Water Resources – used to oversee the licensing, management, and regulation of hawkers at all Government-run hawker centres until recently, when the Government allowed social enterprises to take over certain hawker centres.
Since the Government began allowing social enterprises to run hawker centres, multiple reports of these social enterprises charging hawkers exorbitant fees have emerged, sparking worries that these costs that overtly tax hawkers will be passed to consumers and eventually kill Singapore’s hawker culture.
Today, 13 out of 114 hawker centres in Singapore are run by social enterprises: NTUC Foodfare, Fei Siong Food Management, Timbre Group, OTMH and Hawker Management.
OTMH is a subsidiary of Kopitiam – which is set to be sold to NTUC Enterprise by the end of this year – while Hawker Management is a subsidiary of grassroots leader-founded Koufu.
Besides Timbre Group, all the other four social enterprises were recently revealed to have forced the hawkers operating stalls at their SEHCs to grapple with additional hefty fees and what some believe to be overly strict rules, since they began running the food centres.
Fei Siong was accused of charging hawkers a whopping $600 monthly stall inspection fee, while Koufu’s Hawker Management was revealed to have charged hawkers a fee for each tray customers return.
OTMH was recently revealed to charge hawkers approximately $4000 to run a standard stall at their Tampines SEHC but do not allow hawkers to take any off day if they work 12 hours a day. Those who work 16 and 20 hours a day are entitled to 1 and 2 off days a month respectively.
Labour movement-linked NTUC Foodfare was also accused of hiking fees for hawkers at Old Airport Road Hawker Centre and Whampoa Makan Place since they took over the food centres.
When Dr Khor was asked about the tray return fee that was imposed upon hawkers under Koufu’s social enterprise, the ruling party politician first maintained radio silence before revealing that she has “asked NEA to quickly iron out the problems and to do a stock-take of the Social Enterprise model.”
Dr Khor reportedly told Mothership that she “hopes for the public’s patience with the government in this process — as with all things the government has to do, this will take some time.”