“In yet another move to address hawkers’ concerns on the way not-for-profit hawker centres are run, Dr. Amy Khor said she has asked all social enterprise operators to form feedback groups in the centres they manage” (Social Enterprise Operators to Get Views of Hawkers, Benson Ang).
The fracas surrounding hawker centres operated by social enterprises has highlighted the challenges of consultation and communication, and in this vein the need for the government to urge these social enterprise operators to “meet the hawkers’ feedback groups on a regular basis to discuss concerns and issues so that these can be addressed quickly” (ST, Oct. 25) only highlights the absence of and the need for progress. That operators have only embraced consultation right now through the formation on feedback groups – instead of viewing it as a consistent feature from the get-go, not only to solicit hawker views but also to be attuned to concerns on the ground – reveals a deeper and persistent malaise of potential apathy and lethargy.
Consultation is closely tied to communication, especially in terms of the frequency of interactions between the operators and the hawkers as well as the presence of channels. Respectively, that operators have not necessarily been open to media questions and that hawkers have had to rely on the media, social media, and other personalities mean that consistent consultation has not been an option thus far. Even if there is the occasional exchange between parties – especially when initiated by the government, at the national level – it would appear that the most pertinent challenges surrounding contractual obligations and limitations, rent and miscellaneous payments, and other arrangements within the hawker centre have remained unaddressed. The effectiveness of these endeavours, moreover, is not clear.
Interesting questions, in this vein, will be how the government ascertains the “success” or the “effectiveness” of the upcoming sessions between the social enterprise operators and their hawkers: Will the National Environment Agency (NEA) reach out directly to the hawkers, to ask if the hawkers think they have been heard, and whether a list of problems – and policy recommendations, perhaps even through a structured research approach – can be surfaced? Whether hawkers will continue to have direct and reliable platforms to articulate concerns? And how will the NEA check if the issues have been resolved? Unless these processes are made more consistent and effective, for problems to be identified more quickly and for solutions to be identified thereafter, these grievances may only fester.