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4/12/2009

When privatisation is a fear word

Privatisation used to be the key word to symbolise improved efficiency, better quality of products and services and a necessary evil, higher cost. The last part is always unspoken. No body wants to talk about it. Two letters by Ang Ah Ho and Zhuang Kuan Seng in the Sunday Times were literary pleading for mercy against HDB and privatisation. They questioned the role and responsibility of HDB in a tender exercise for Sengkang wet market. It went to the highest bidder, Renaissance Properties, at $500,001 pm. All these make business sense as the new tenants will definitely improve the efficiency of running the wet market as well as improving the quality and services. The residents only see fear of higher cost of basic food that they will get from the market. And they were concerned even in the way HDB framed its reply in a nonchalant way. But they were barking up the wrong tree. HDB is no more a govt organisation. It is privatised, just like the wet market is going to be. And profit is one of its key goals. They must remember how the second batch of Duxton Pinnacles flat owners have to cough out another $200k for each unit because the prices of similar flats have gone up. The residents in Sengkang should look at the brighter and positive side of things. Life style will improve with new concepts in wet marketing. The fish, meat and vegetables will be fresher and of better quality. And the stall holders will probably say thank you when they buy from them. And the higher cost of living is just part of the deal. It has to be. But it will be very affordable. All new housing estates have better quality food courts than the heart of Raffles Place and Chinatown. The food centres at Golden Shoe, Hong Lim and Chinatown are much cheaper, $2.50 can get one a bowl of noodle or rice, mixed vegetable rice or chicken rice. But the quality must be not so good as the food courts at HDB estates, and no aircon some more. Soon everyone will be frequenting food courts in HDB estates. I pray and pray that these hawker centres will not be privatised. Personally the quality of their food, at $2.50, is damn good. But I am biased. And so must be all the happy customers, some wearing ties and Prada frequenting them. Please do not privatise them. Not everybody has a first world income and want to pay first world prices for basic needs. As for the Sengkang residents, they are welcome to Raffles Place to enjoy a $2.50 meal, if they can afford the train or bus fare. For the time being, they should count their blessings. Actually we must be very thankful that the govt did not privatise all the ministries. Of course the quality and efficiency will improve, but the cost of their services will be much higher than now.

5 comments:

rookielim said...

Hi Redbean, I can still remember the good old days back in the early 80s when I used to be able buy a Bee Rebus @ $0.50 and Wanton noodle @ $1.00 at the old wet market in Upper Serangoon Road (at the Junction of Old Tampines Road), quite near to Sengkang. The market was very old and run down. Rats were running everywhere. But, the food was really cheap and very good.

Life were much simpler then. I think the hawkers then paid a nominal fee (may be around $25 a month) or so to get a license. Many of them were given a stall because they were forced to move from their Kampongs and this was one of the way to compensate them and give them a livelihood.

The government were also not paid high salaries and there were no GST back then.

Some hawkers made very good money. They were wearing gold chains, driving Mercedes and living in huge bungalow(s). The food they sell were very popular and attracted long queues. But, in addition to cooking something really different and special (with their secret recipe), it was long hours and hard work. I think they deserved it. Obviously, one of the reason they did so well is because they probably under-declared their income in their tax return or more simply put never submitted their tax return.

Some smart super talents in our government must have gotten jealous and asked themselves why is it that these people that have practically no education were earning so much more money while they were not. Things started to change and high rental became a way that the government gets back at these rich hawkers.

What is even worst is when someone did good (e.g., Johnson Loke S$13 roast duck), the GLCs will step in and copy cat them and eats into their turf. How can one possibly compete with a GLC with all the resources behind them?

Nowadays there are still good and cheap food. But, I can safely say that there are much lesser than in the past. I also believe that the rich hawker food towkays are a dying breed. As a result, we get plenty of hawker food that are mediocre at best.

This is basically the story of Singapore...

Our highly paid super talents have implemented policies (especially high rents) that allow them to sustain their high pays but stifle the creativity and entrepreneurship drive of Singaporeans. In order to afford the high rents, you simply have no choice but to churn out mediocre food in big quantities. There are just no incentives to put in more efforts to be different or special because at the end of the day, a big % of every dollar you make goes back to our highly educated and "well deserving" government in term high rents, utilities and GST.

And the IRAS is keeping a close eye on those popular hawkers to make sure they pay their fair sure of income taxes... A meritocratic society indeed.

redbean said...

yes rookielim, you said it. the hawkers are the one that work for it, for every cent that they made. now i think for every cent that they made, 99c go to the rental. it could be more. a $10k rent means the first S10K go to the rent. if the hawker's revenue is $10k, tough luck, all goes to the rent.

so for those people who still think that high rent, high salary would not affect them, think carefully. you pay for them.

Lim Pei said...

HDB is not privatised, salaries are paid with public fund.

Just like shares, stocks and equities, prices fluctuates on willing buyer-seller demand vs supply situations. So Rents will also be based on demand. Reality is Kopi-tiam scene in Singapore is changing and evolving. Air-con food court is a more accepted way of life. It just means the hawkers worked harder for their monies.

I dont relish those days where rats run around and chose to opt for cleaner air-con food court with centralised washing.

Give you an example. TRY GO IKEA for breakfast. I was shocked this morning at IKEA, i bought breakfast @ $1.80 with free machine coffee (FRIENDS). The quene was very long.

Looked behind the IKEA cleaning line and the organised cups, glasses , plates tray and forks - our air-con food court is still a way behind IKEA.

Fact that IKEA can sell food @ $1.80 with such excellent service tray, cups , seats, lights settings centralised cleaning etc. etc We should never relish to go back to those LIMPEI "Ah Pei" days - it gone and it's finished.

Just hope those who tender HDB market will follow IKEA as an example - 3 cheers for SIN moving ahead ie using machine to do cleaning and washing ie the dirty part of food business.

In this respect, we are still way behind. Just look at the HDB kopitiam toilet - WTO did noting to improve except talk-talk. It is my belief only legislature can imporve HDB Kopitiam toilet - they are now still very dirty.

There you go.

redbean said...

hi lim pei, welcome back. didn't see you posting for a while.

yes, we need to progress. i like ikea, i like dining in nice places, in clubs etc. but our personal preferences and affordability should not be used to impose on those who cannot afford it. many would not mind kopitiams that are cheaper and cleaner. not necessarily aircon. alfresco dining, outdoor dining is a tropical way of life.

but cleanliness is very important. this must be done and not necessarily at high cost. the quality of life for different level of people, personal hygiene, are different. some of the cleaners smell, dirty clothing etc. they are used to it. these are little things that can be improved.

the privatisation of kopitiams can be very costly to the hardlanders if not managed properly. free market forces can be allowed to run free. that is what has happened to wall street and corporate america.

Anonymous said...

At $500,001 pm and with 40 market stalls and 50 cooked food stalls, that would work out to about $5K+ pm on average for each stall, not taking into account the profit margin that Renaissance Properties will factor in.

I certainly will not be patronising those stalls because they cannot be anything but cheap. And it does not always follow that quality food is equated with expensive food. Far from it.

But as good citizens are, some Singaporeans will still say it is affordable and will carry on supporting the privatisation rip-off. Good luck to the stallholders.

Lost Citizen