Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Hawker slams tender for stalls at Bukit Panjang


Fishball noodle stall owner says bidders should have had an opportunity to showcase their culinary skills.

By Siau Ming En,

09 Oct 2015

SINGAPORE: The upcoming hawker centre at Bukit Panjang has received more than 300 bids for its stalls and kiosks and more than 50 applicants have been shortlisted, said the operator, NTUC Foodfare.

One hawker who missed out on making the cut, however, has cried foul over the selection process.

Mr Douglas Ng, who had complained about NTUC Foodfare’s imposition of price caps for dishes at the hawker centre, which is scheduled to open by the end of this year, said the shortlisting method was unfair and lacked transparency.

During the tender briefings, NTUC Foodfare had said it would evaluate bids on a scorecard with 40 per cent weightage for the tendered rent, and 60 per cent for factors including the quality, variety and selling price of food; the intended opening hours; a bidder’s experience; as well as concept.

In response to TODAY’s queries, NTUC Foodfare said these criteria do not discriminate against younger bidders, adding that individuals with the best ideas and passion for food can stand a fair chance.

But Mr Ng, 24, who runs a fishball noodle stall at Golden Mile Food Centre, thinks it would have been fairer if bidders had a chance to showcase their culinary skills.

“We just want a fair system for everyone of us. Since I’m selling fishball noodles, 10 of us should come up (for food tasting) and they should choose the best according to the food,” he said.

Commenting on the issue, Mr K F Seetoh, founder of food company Makansutra, said the bidding process is discouraging for younger hawkers like Mr Ng.

These “not very well-thought-out goals and aims are dimming the lights on our already fading public hawker food culture”, he said.


Mr Ng said the lease for his current stall will expire by the end of this year, adding that he may consider closing his stall to “explore a different route” if he is unable to find a suitable location within the next two months.

Noting that his handmade fishballs cost four times more to make than factory-made ones, he said: “(Working as a) hawker is already not an attractive career. The profit margin is low, so if everything is expensive and they cannot make money, it’s hard work.

“I don’t want to compromise quality,” he added. “If it defeats the purpose of preserving tradition, I would rather not do it.”

NTUC Foodfare had said hawkers have to operate longer hours and offer at least two items that are capped at certain prices.

For example, fishball noodles and chicken rice cannot cost more than S$2.50 and S$2.70, respectively. In contrast, the price of Western food such as pasta is capped at S$5.80.

In response to concerns that food quality may be compromised as a result, NTUC Foodfare said it “remains committed towards our vision and our social objectives for the centre in providing affordable, good food and aims to bring together the best hawkers who can provide the quality, variety and value for money offerings for residents and consumers, at every budget”.

[How to have good hawkers?

See the first part of this blog post:
We should bring the hawker centre into our shared space and let residents have a greater say and control over their hawker centre.
So, at the ground floor is a collectively-owned (by the residents) coffee shop or canteen. Residents get to select and recruit the best hawkers and mix of hawkers to create the coffee shop they want, with the stalls they want, who will charge prices the residents will find reasonable.
Hawkers and Residents (via a committee) will negotiate the rental, the operating hours, the prices (for residents) and minimum serving sizes. For non-residents, the hawkers will be free to charge "market rates".
Residents may also negotiate special services, like meal deliveries by the hawkers for elderly residents. They may appoint the drinks vendor as the "manager" to oversee this service.
Let the residents choose their hawkers, and be willing to give concessionary rentals to the hawkers they want. ]

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