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CASE and NTUC - close relationship and a question of impartiality.

CASE’s relationship with NTUC

Uniquely Singapore

The Unions, the Press, and the People - Part II

Leong Sze Hian

The National Trades Union Congress (NTUC) founded the Consumers Association of Singapore (CASE) in 1971, and it remains an institution member today. (938 Live) (CASE's letter to Business Times)

According to NTUC's web site:

The NTUC Family includes 9 co-operatives, and 6 affiliated organizations - the Singapore Labour Foundation, NTUC Club, NTUC Link, the Ong Teng Cheong Institute of Labour Studies, NTUC LearningHub, and the Consumers' Association of Singapore, and the Employment and Employability Institute (e2i).

NTUC is the parent body of CASE.

CASE President, Mr Yeo Guat Kwang, is currently listed as the “Director, Quality Worklife Department, NTUC” in the Singapore Parliament website.

He was seconded from NTUC to be President of CASE.

CASE’s Central Committee Secretary and its Executive Director, Mr Seah Seng Choon, was seconded from NTUC as well. Before joining CASE, he was General Manager of NTUC Denticare and Director for Skills Development at NTUC Training Centre. (CASE)

CASE's former Executive Secretary, Mr Ivan Baptist, was also seconded from the NTUC. (CASE)

CASE's web site describes CASE as "a non-profit, non-governmental organization for the people".

In view of the above, is there a possible conflict of interest – the issue of impartiality for CASE to evaluate NTUC FairPrice viv-a-vis other supermarkets?

Is there an issue of objectivity when the President and Executive Director of CASE are both seconded from the NTUC, in matters concerning NTUC FairPrice?

Erroneous information and sloppy work by CASE

In its May 2 press release, CASE reported that its survey revealed that NTUC FairPrice was the only supermarket chain which had uniform pricing in all its outlets:

We also observed that the same product can be differently priced in different supermarket’s outlets, except Fairprice which maintains consistent pricing for all products in all their outlets. (CASE)

One week later, on May 9, the Straits Times’ report titled, “One-price policy: Some do, some don't” (Straits Times, May 9), it revealed that NTUC FairPrice was not the only supermarket with uniform pricing:

Three supermarket chains have uniform pricing across all their outlets, a Straits Times check has discovered.

On May 2, the Consumers Association of Singapore (Case) reported that supermarket chains here, with the exception of the 80-outlet NTUC FairPrice, did not have a uniform price policy.

A Giant Hypermarket spokesman told The Straits Times that this was not so: 'We have always had a one-price policy at all hypermarkets.'

The exceptions were when a store had 'specific promotions on selected items'.

But Case was right when it came to the Cold Storage and Sheng Siong chains.

When contacted, Case executive director Seah Seng Choon said that only NTUC FairPrice had told the consumer watchdog of its uniform pricing.

'The other supermarkets did not inform us about it. Since they have disclosed it now, we will inform all consumers,' he added”.

It is perplexing for CASE’s executive director to explain the disparity by saying that “only NTUC FairPrice had told the consumer watchdog of its uniform pricing.”

This is especially bewildering because CASE was supposed to have done a survey of all the supermarkets – instead of waiting for the supermarket chains to tell it about their uniform pricing.

Besides, if the supermarkets did not tell CASE about it, and CASE did not find out for itself, how then did CASE come to the conclusion that NTUC FairPrice was the only chain with uniform pricing?

This begs the question: Did CASE ask the other supermarkets whether they had a uniform price policy like FairPrice, before it made the press release that “supermarket chains here, with the exception of the 80-outlet NTUC FairPrice, did not have a uniform price policy”?

One can only wonder about the methodology CASE used for its “survey”.

How will CASE correct the erroneous information it gave out?

Was the comparison of prices amongst supermarkets based on the highest, average or lowest prices for items, for those supermarkets that do not have a uniform pricing policy?

With reference to CASE promising to "inform all consumers” about the uniform pricing, I would like to ask how CASE is going to do so? By a press release?

I think in all fairness, perhaps somebody ought to apologise to Shop N Save and Giant, for saying that all “supermarket chains here, with the exception of the 80-outlet NTUC FairPrice, did not have a uniform price policy”.

Who audits NTUC?

As a co-operative, we understand that NTUC FairPrice gets preferential tax treatment relative to the commercial supermarkets. For the year ended 31 March 2007, its taxation was only about $3 million on a profit of $103 million. (FairPrice) (Note: the corporate tax rate is 18 per cent.)

So, shouldn't NTUC FairPrice's prices be "cheaper" than others, given that it is taxed less?

The Auditor-General's Annual Report has just been released on 8 May. So, who audits NTUC Fairprice's "prices" and profits increasing by 89 per cent last year to $100 million?

Read also: The Unions, the Press and the People by Leong Sze Hian and Choo Zheng Xi.

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