The Bukit Panjang Hawker Conundrum: NTUC, Saint, or Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing?
There has been much talk about the opening of the new Bukit Panjang Hawker Centre and Market, with most of the debates centering around the price caps placed on the hawkers.
While it’s interesting and touching to see people voicing their concern for the would be hawkers at the BPHC&M, they’re missing the point a little, in my opinion.
The Purpose of Bukit Panjang Hawker Centre and Market
So, Aaron, what is the point?
The fact that BPHC&M is meant to be run as a non-profit should be a clue.
Guys. It’s not meant for up and coming hawkers to try their hand at starting a comfortably profitable venture (with all due respect to Dr Leslie of iEatiShootiPost and Douglas Ng, whose comments garnered a lot of attention).
This sounds a lot like the group of people who complain they’re disqualified from buying HDBs because their incomes are too high. Like, duh, HDBs are reserved for those who are not as affluent. You can imagine how little sympathy I have for these people.
At the end of the day, places like the Bukit Panjang Hawker Centre & Market are there primarily as a place of enterprise and consumption for the less well to do, so that they can etch out a comfortable living (which is different from being comfortably profitable), and also, that they may provide an avenue for affordable meals for others.
Well, in my opinion anyway.
Look. I too look at the dying trend with much trepidation. I’d also love to see more young people going into the business. The honest truth is however, that it’s not only dying because it’s becoming impractical to become a hawker, but also because the demand is starting to drop, in favor of hipster cafes and the like.
I mean, even in the silly channel 8 rant, the 23 year old kid used $6-7 coffee to justify his heartless money-minded ways. As if our forebears didn’t have problems right.
Hai. Nobody wants to drink $1.50 kopitiam kopi anymore.
Then you also have to remember that we Singaporeans are extremely risk-adverse (or some might say ‘practical’, and/or ‘realistic’). Why work so hard for income that isn’t guaranteed when you can work for others and still have a reasonably comfortable life?
So, it’s not so much a problem of costs, as it’s also a problem of shifting demands and priorities.
I’ve recently started to use cafes like Starbucks and Coffee Bean to do my work when I noticed that… wait… there are lots of kids spending $6-7 on coffee!
But, I digress. That’s an argument for another time.
Costs of Running a Stall at Bukit Panjang Hawker Centre and Market
What I’m really here to talk about are some of the cost involved in opening setting up a stall at BPHC&M. Here are the details of tender for renting a space at BPHC&M (or right click, save as here to download):BPHCM
Specifically I’d like you to look at page 2 onwards, where the basic costs were lined out:
In case you missed it, the asterix means that these fees are not fixed and may be changed throughout the tenancy of the stall. Naturally, this gives NTUC, the currently appointed non-profit management, some wiggle room for when the need to raise the fees arise, at any time (please lah, are you expecting otherwise?).
So here’s the thing, even before you start bidding for rentals, you’ll need to consider the running costs, which are:
$320 – Service & Conservancy Charge
$500 – Table Cleaning Fee
$850 – Dishwashing Fee
Which is a total of $1670, or more accurately, $1786.90, with GST.
So when Dr Vivian Balakrishnan says that some rents are as low as $10, what he meant was that some effective rents are as low as $1786.90 + $10 = $1796.90.
Holy moly. I know people who are active hawkers and a couple that have done a short stint before. Even they thought it was a little much.
One thing to note: you *must* use their cleaning services. That’s why I consider it as ‘rent’.
Third, taking away the S&C charges, the cleaning fees alone amount to $1444.50 with GST.
Wah cowz. I guess I can expect Bukit Panjang Hawker Centre and Market to pass 3SG Aaron Loy’s stand-by-hawker standards when I’m there!
Also, if you think about it… doesn’t that sound like the pay and CPF contribution of a cleaner?
The minimum pay of a cleaner in Singapore now starts at $1000. The cost to an employer per month, including the 17% employers CPF contribution and 13th month annual wage supplement, but excluding other benefits, would be about $1267.50/month.
Are they hiring 1 cleaner per stall? What happened to economy of scale?
If not, wouldn’t it be better off if each stall just hired a helper on their own, who could also help with the cleaning?
I also got quotes from 2 coffee shops, one from Pandan Gardens, which is about $1000/month, and another for about $1700/month, inclusive of utilities, for a stall under a HDB block in Jurong East. You are to procure and take care of your own utensils in those locations.
To be fair, these quotes are for slightly non-central, low traffic areas. BPHC&M is located at Bangkit, which is like a little sub-urban hub of Bukit Panjang. That said, it does put the fees NTUC’s expecting these budget hawkers to put up with into perspective.
MoneySmart.sg did a little piece about how this all benefits NTUC at the end of the day. While I’m personally less inclined to believe that NTUC’s purposefully taking advantage of the situation, with ‘less’ being the imperative word here, I cannot help but notice that there is something amiss.
Then you have the fact that the most profitable ventures in this market, which is the drinks and desserts, are being run by NTUC themselves.
Not for profit? No wonder MoneySmart.sg’s inclined to think that NTUC’s essentially ripping these poor hawkers off.
I don’t expect things to be free or dirt cheap. While a non-profit project, these places should not be operating at a loss. But, with costs running close to $1800, when you’ve not even added on rent, materials and utilities? I can understand wanting to put a cap on the prices of food, but expecting these hawkers to do so with these charges levied as well?
Nowonder everybody’s making noise.
Of course, at the end of the day, we might be the ones making mistakes with our poorly thought out assumptions and calculations. But will the time come when NTUC is able to spell everything out clearly, including their justification for such high cleaning fees?
Hah. As the perennial cynical Singaporean saying goes,” Tan ku ku lah”.