Screengrab from Competition and Consumer Commission of Singapore's website

Potential unwitting misconceptions could affect reputation of impartiality of Singapore’s anti-competition watchdog

by Ghui

In crowded Singapore, there is an ever-increasing demand for taxis; it is, therefore, no surprise that this factual matrix has attracted a company like Uber to enter the Singaporean market.

Amidst much publicised legal woes that have recently engulfed Uber, it also comes as no surprise that it is seeking to divest itself of some of its empire which has paved the way for South East Asian cab giant, Grab to acquire Uber’s market share in South East Asia.

While such an acquisition may make commercial sense for Grab, does it lead to a market monopoly that will reduce the consumer’s right to choose and lead to Grab having the power to regulate cab pricing?

It is perhaps this concern that has led to Singapore’s watchdog to launch and investigate into whether or not this “merger” has flouted anti-competition laws in Singapore.

While I applaud this bold step taken by the local watchdog, I do wonder why the watchdog has taken this rare measure at this point. To date, I cannot actually recall the watchdog has ever taken such a step in similar “mergers”?

In April 2017, it was announced that Grab had entered talks with SMRT to buy over SMRT’s taxi business. This would indeed have created a monopoly. Fast forward to October 2017, it was then announced that SMRT and Grab would cooperate. In return for Grab drivers having exclusive access to SMRT’s current and future taxi and private car fleet, SMRT cab drivers can only accept ride bookings from Grab, ruling out other rival apps such as Uber.

Is this not anti-competition too?

While I wholeheartedly believe in consumer choice and am encouraged by the local watchdog flexing its muscles, I wonder why it has chosen this particular development to question.

SMRT is a Temasek owned company while Uber is a foreign-owned entity firmly in the private sector. Could it be misconstrued by the public that the local watchdog did not raise issues with the SMRT/Grab partnership because SMRT is Temasek owned?

Could it be unwittingly misunderstood by the public that now that Uber and Grab are one, they can really take on the other government-owned or affiliated businesses?

I am not suggesting that this is indeed the case. But I do worry about potential unwitting misconceptions which could affect the reputation of impartiality of our local watchdog.