Opinion

5 Chilling (Yet Probable) Consequences Of Hawker Centres Going Cashless 

cashless hawker centre

Eugenia Liew

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On the surface, going cashless at hawker centres seems like a dream. It’s like that Visa PayWave ad, right? You pirouette around with your char kway teow and with a magical wave of your credit card, you’re done and on your way. No more judge-y stares from the people queuing behind because duh? You no longer have to fumble with your shillings.

In case you blur like sotong, let me get you up to speed: As part of Singapore’s efforts to become a “smart nation”, an initiative has been rolled out to help all hawker centres go cashless.

By the end of 2020, some 200 hawker centres and canteens by the Housing and Development Board, National Environment Agency and JTC Corporation will accept cashless payments (e.g. via EZ-Link card, Visa, MasterCard, etc).

Normally, I’m all for swiping my plastic – got minimum spend to hit leh. Some more got rebate, why don’t want?!

But after watching a few episodes of Black Mirror and having cryptic conversations with Clara, the techno-paranoia kicked in.

What does it really cost us to earn that few cents of cash back from our hawker meals? Here are 5 chilling (yet probable) consequences of hawker centres going cashless.

nets hawker centre cashless

1.  Data on your eating habits and patterns will be sold to advertisers.

Every time you tap your credit or EZ-Link cards, someone somewhere will be tapping into your data. What you’re eating, where you’re eating it, how often you eat it…

And it’s not just your eating patterns that is at risk; data like your credit card details will also be collected somewhere. The huge database is bound to be monetised (read: sold to advertisers) sooner or later. Even if that doesn’t happen, it will be susceptible to leaks and data attacks.

Yup, if you ever caught yourself thinking “Whey! How come Facebook know I was just thinking about this?” It’s only going to get worse.

This may sound like the stuff of dystopian sci-fi flicks, but it’s actually closer to reality than most think – just take a look at China’s social credit system. People are monitored by cameras and apps, and their behaviours are scored.

Before long, someone will be knocking on my door and dragging me to the nearest clinic to do a diabetes screening because I had 6 cups of iced Milo yesterday…

 

2. That cai png uncle’s livelihood will be affected because he will have to pay more tax to serve you affordable food.

It’s public knowledge that many hawkers under-declare their earnings. And the reason why nobody gives half a shit about it is because most times, it’s unintentional.

It’s usually a combination of poor record-keeping, as well as financial illiteracy and unfamiliarity with the legal processes.

Look, I understand the importance of income tax okay. It pays for the nice roads and street lamps and whatnot. But it’s not as if these uncles and aunties are millionaires who deliberately evade tax.

So unless we’re talking about the almost $55,000 worth of tax that Kay Lee evaded, I am fine with the way things are now because it means that the hawkers can continue doing what they love and I can continue having $3 char kway teow.

But the digitised money trail left by the cashless payment schemes will inevitably bring the hawkers’ earnings into greater scrutiny. And if they have to pay more tax, you know what that means.

If you don’t, see the next point.

 

3. Hawker food prices will go up.

There are several costs involved for hawkers to “go cashless”.

First, they will be given a terminal for card payments and the SGQR (national QR code payment standard). This device will be rented to the hawkers for free for the first 3 years. But according to an article by The Straits Times, “Nets said that it has not decided what the charges would be after the three years.” Hmmm.

The next cost to the hawkers is the transaction fee. It is 0.5%, and is currently borne by the government. The hawkers may apply for fee waivers (before August 2020).

Given that hawkers’ profit margins are already very slim, they’re likely to pass on these costs to us. And if you’re thinking “meh, I can afford that few dollars”, think again.

This has repercussions on your retirement years as well – just imagine when having a hot meal out of home will not cost an affordable $3 to $4 anymore.

Sian. I suppose the one good thing about this is that goondu international journalists can finally stop gushing about how food in Singapore is cheap.

 

4. There will be a rise of young, tech-savvy hawkers who will replace old, seasoned cooks.

The cash economy is easy. Collect money, count money – done. But add more processes and paperwork to the equation, and I expect that many greying hawkers will be unable to keep up and eventually be forced to close down.

I don’t know about you, but I’ll be very sad to see things go that way.

Who will replace them? The young and enterprising, of course. I suppose this isn’t exactly a bad thing per se, but I don’t trust anyone the same age as me to fry my kway teow.

 

5. We will become a faceless society.

But perhaps the darkest, most abstract consequence of this initiative is that we will, before long, turn into a faceless society.

To me, meals are the most important part of the day. Not just because I’m greedy, but because it’s the time I get to smell the fresh air and take a break from my 8 hours of work. It’s the time I get to chit-chat with the lovely bak chor mee auntie who remembers my order by heart (mee pok, no spring onions, no shallots, no vinegar and less chilli).

Going cashless at hawker centres sounds like we’re slowly giving up these conversations in the name of efficiency. In fact, it’s already happening in fast food joints like KOI and MacDonald’s where ordering is automated at a kiosk. Some food courts even have tray-collecting robots. WLE.

When everything is done via machines, we will stop smiling at those who prepare our food and saying “thank you” to the ones who clean up after us.

We’ll disconnect from the world, and in the process, lose a bit of what makes us human.

 

Do you support hawker centres going cashless? Share your thoughts with us in the comments below! 

 

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Eugenia Liew

I’m a 90s millennial who’s starting to realise that #adulting is more expensive than it seems on Instagram. When I’m not writing for MoneySmart, I’m usually playing with drain-dwelling stray cats or shopping at Sephora.