Sunday, 3 June 2012

Is there a market for wet markets? Workfare for stall owners? Dilemma of the PAP

Is there a market for wet market? Yes, may be in Hougang as suggested by Desmond Choo as part of his by-election campaign strategy to win votes. Indeed, he got an extra 145 votes and perhaps these additional votes are from the old and senior citizens of the zone that wet market is offered (and to be built?) in Hougang.

No wonder the PAP called the by-election a local election.  They first closed down the wet market for political reason and then they proposed a new wet market for political reason.  This is the dilemma of the PAP.  They first made people angry and then tried to please the people but people got even more angry, either way they played with public money thinking that they have nothing to lose, at least in their own pocket.

This can never go on forever. The more they are repeating and playing things like this will make the PAP lose more voters in future. This also shows how short-sighted the PAP is.  We talk about national challenge of wet markets and they concentrate on local issue.   

The bigger picture and national issue in Singapore is there is a growing concern of the future and survival of wet markets. There are more callings to convert the wet markets to cooked food centres as the business for stall owners in wet markets is declining.  And even with the subsidized and low rental, stall owners still cannot meet their end needs and earn a proper living. Hence, they request to turn their fresh food stalls into cooked food stalls.    

Dilemma in our economy

This is the state of local businessmen, self-employed persons and small traders.  Our economy has come to a stage that there are less and less opportunities for local people, especially those in small and traditional businesses.   

The offer of wet market by Desmond in fact is against the PAP’s pragmatic way of money politics. Years ago, the government even considered privatising Fajar wet market and now they make a sudden turn of offering wet market in Hougang. In economic term, can the wet market survive? If not, it is just an election sweeter. Or, in some ways it is a political cheating!   Gone are the days when the PAP would say ‘even the policy is not welcome they will still do it as they think it is good for the country.’ 

The increasing cost of operation in Singapore and the shift in marketing (consumption) pattern have resulted to the closures of many traditional businesses.  Earnings or incomes for wet market stall owners, like many small businesses, are in fact dropping and declining, a situation similar to low wage workers.  These people are unlikely to meet their CPF minimum sum requirements when they retire.

Wet market stall owners do not have economies of scale, their selling prices are even higher than those in supermarkets, and their environment too is less comfortable, naturally, they face competition and a challenging future. 

This is why we should not be surprised by <
Market stall in Ang Mo Kio receives S$1 bid.>

When NEA calls for second tender with the hope to increase the rental to above $1, they have to realise the market for wet market is not in their favour.  Stall owners have already suffered from bad business. Any increase in rental will reduce their income and how can they meet their end needs?

Workfare for self-employed persons

Unless the government treat them like low wage workers and stall owners are allowed to receive workfare supplement income.  Self-employed stall owners do make contributions to our society and if we recognise low wage workers and ‘to ensure that low-wage workers have a share in economic growth’, we should also extend workfare benefits to stall owners. It is also a way to keep self-employed people in employment, in the work force.

How can we make wet markets sustainable?  The government can only subsidize rental, but not other costs.  And stall owners need to have basic income for a living. Low wage workers now can have $50 increase under the NWC recommendation but stall owners have nothing.

Stall owners like low wage workers have suffered income stagnation for the past 10 years. We should look at the low income families as a whole, not to solve problems part by part; low income self-employed persons should have the same attention as the low wage workers.

Certainly, stall owners cannot get (and afford) to employ foreign workers like NTUC and other supermarkets.  Supermarkets can increase their productivity with modern technology and young workers, but stall owners – who is going to help them if not government?