Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Straits Times: Govt-run wet markets will stay

20 Oct, 2009
Govt-run wet markets will stay
By Jessica Lim

ALL 82 of the government-run wet markets in Singapore will remain in government hands, along 'with the smell, the sound and the sight', Minister for Environment and Water Resources Yaacob Ibrahim told Parliament yesterday.

As for the rest of the 19 wet markets run by private companies, he reiterated that approval from the Housing Board would be needed for their sale and any change of their uses.

He gave these assurances in light of the outcry following news that a supermarket chain, Sheng Siong, is taking over six markets and replacing them with air-conditioned markets.

Madam Ho Geok Choo (West Coast GRC) had asked for the preservation of wet markets, which she described as close to the hearts of Singaporeans and part of Singapore's heritage.

She also asked for the profile of stallholders and the occupancy rate of wet markets.

Dr Yaacob said the median age of a stall holder is 60. As for the occupancy rate, he said this has gone up from 78 per cent 10 years ago to 91 per cent today.

One reason for the high rate: When the time for the Hawker Centres Upgrading Programme comes around to a centre, some hawkers would drop out of the trade citing retirement and tough business conditions. About 1,700 stallholders or 30 per cent of market stallholders per centre did so, and vacated stalls that were in low demand removed to enhance stall sizes and layout.

Dr Yaacob also gave some figures on hawker stalls in reply to Madam Cynthia Phua (Aljunied GRC), who wanted a check on hawkers who 'assign' their stalls to others, arguing that they charge a premium to the other parties which are passed on to consumers. She also appealed for some stalls to be set aside for the elderly poor at subsidised rents.

Over the past five years, the National Environment Agency (NEA) let out an average of 250 stalls a year through tender. Bid prices for market and cooked food stalls are about 32 per cent and 56 per cent above their reserve prices, or the lowest bids, said Dr Yaacob.

Another 130 stalls a year are released through the walk-in scheme, where parties rent them directly from NEA at market rate. A total of 228 stalls are still vacant.

Dr Yaacob disclosed that about 360 stalls change hands in a year but it was not for the Government to intervene as 'the assignment process is a private transaction between two interested parties'.

Those who choose to take over the stalls should 'go in with their eyes open' and decide if they can afford the premium and still make money.

He also declined to revive the practice of allocating vacant stalls at subsidised rent to hardship cases which was discontinued in 1990.

'The hawking trade is very risky. If you are an elderly, if you don't have the skill set to cook, if your food is not that great, you may not be able to get the patronage,' he said.

The better alternative was to approach a community development council for help and training.

Team Marshe
Martin Koh/ Sherry Tang
93833992/ 98444400

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