Food is an integral component in the social fabric of Singapore, it is an experience, it is where we find common ground and it is where hearty eating leads to hearty discussions. Hawker centres and wet markets were built by the government between the 1960s and 1980s with the main objective of providing public infrastructure for the sale of food in a manageable, clean and hygienic setting.
Over the decades, hawker centres have evolved to become a part of community life where residents from all walks of life could freely interact. The very words “Let’s go lim kopi” is an endearing of way striking bond between us Singaporeans. Interestingly enough, the hawker center has served us not only food, but has in return served us a very interesting social hotpot. Our beloved hawker center is today a meeting house, a chess tournament center, a gossip centre and to sum it all, a place of social bonding.
We ought to feed this uniquely Singaporean culture of hawker centers and to grow future generations of hawkerpreuners. We ought to encourage the organic growth of Singaporean culture that sprouts from the daily activities that take place in our wet markets and hawker centers. A hawker is an admirable job and it is not uncommon to hear hawkers proudly boast of their very profitable businesses.
However, as our nation matures, so does our education system. And with a more educated workforce, there is shrinking desire to setup shop in a hot, pungent and bustling hawker center. With increased wealth and a greater appetite for risk, business people now prefer to invest in more cafes and restaurants, as is observable when you step into any mall. We need to rekindle the desire of good cooking and F&B, we need to fire up the passions of hawkerpreuners.
The Ministry of the Environment and Water Resources has commissioned and received the final report by the Hawker Centre Public Consultation Panel. The Panel’s final report was submitted to the Ministry in April 2012. Some of the key recommendations of the Panel include:
1. Management Model
The Panel suggests that the new hawker centres could be managed and operated on a not-for-profit basis by a social enterprise or a cooperative. The Panel also suggests that a dedicated management team for each hawker centre should also be assigned to oversee daily operations and management.
The Government has the responsibility of ensuring that the model of management for its hawker centres is practical and sustainable over the long term in achieving the main objective of ensuring affordable food in an environment that is clean and hygienic. The National Environment Agency (NEA) under the Ministry will continue to build new hawker centres in areas that are under-served by affordable dining options. While NEA retains oversight of hawker centre management, the Ministry welcomes proposals from non-profit organisations such as social enterprises and cooperatives which are interested in working with NEA to manage hawker centres. .
The Panel also recommends that an institution for promoting, teaching and transferring of skills be set up to equip a new generation of hawkers with the necessary skills to produce traditional and heritage hawker food. The Ministry agrees that infrastructural development must be complemented by increasing the number of skilled hawkers. NEA will explore how best to facilitate the transfer of culinary knowledge so as to equip more aspiring hawkers with the knowledge and skills to operate the trade well.
The Panel also suggests that cleaning services in all hawker centres and markets should be centrally managed by an agency. NEA is studying the feasibility of a single agency managing cleaning services for existing centres to achieve consistent standards. For new centres that may be managed by an appointed managing agent, the managing agent will be required to ensure that high standards of cleaning services are provided. The stallholders will bear the cost of table cleaning together with the Service & Conservancy Charges (S&CC) and therefore will have a stake in ensuring they do their part in upholding sound hygiene practices and requiring good quality standards in all contracted cleaning services.
In terms of design, the Panel has suggested that the new hawker centres showcase efficiency in the use and management of limited resources. To further promote environmental sustainability, the Panel suggests the use of natural ventilation and befitting building designs which would also improve dining comfort. It also suggests providing recycling facilities, such as food collection points and recycling bins, solar panels and incorporating green features, such as roof gardens, and bioswales, where appropriate. The new hawker centres should also promote green initiatives, for example, by using more sustainable packaging options such as corn-starch based take-away boxes.
The Ministry agrees with the recommendations and will be considering these suggestions in the building of the new hawker centres while taking into account cost, functionality and affordability. More can also be done to promote higher productivity and efficiency in hawker centre management and operations. The Government will also study how best to incentivise stallholders and patrons to
3. Vibrancy and Social Graciousness
The Panel observes that hawker centres can also be a platform to develop and nurture social graciousness among patrons and stallholders. The Ministry agrees that patrons at hawker centres should be encouraged to exercise greater consideration for other patrons. The new hawker centres will incorporate features such as tray return points and centralised washing areas.
In the coming year, with the Panel’s recommendations and public feedback, the Government will continue to work towards hawker centres that meet the community’s dining needs and remain a source of affordable food for all in Singapore. The Government will also continue to engage and consult closely with the grassroots for their inputs and ideas on the new centres that will be built.
It will be very interesting to see how hawker centers will continue to evolve, the new ideas surrounding it and how this body of Singaporean society will change to meet a new generation.