As readers will remember, just a couple of weeks ago, it was publicly announced that NTUC Enterprise was in the process of acquiring kopitiam. It should be noted that this acquisition, if it is given the go ahead by the anti competition watch dog, will give the NTUC group a virtual monopoly over food ranging from raw to cooked in Singapore. While NTUC has pledged that it is only pushing ahead with this proposed acquisition to keep prices low, a monopoly would mean that it would be difficult for the consumer to ensure that NTUC lives up to its promise. A recent experience shared by a member of the public has given rise to some concern.

Mr Lee Chee Meng had written to the Straits Times Forum complaining about the reduced choice offered by NTUC Foodfare in its subsidised meals section. According to Mr Lee, “When Rice Garden was set up, senior citizens and NTUC union members could buy a $2 meal that included two vegetables and one meat item.” Now however, the same $2 meal is restricted to two vegetables and pork, stewed chicken or curry chicken In other words, fish has been taken off the menu.

Looking at this incident, is there cause for the public to worry that should NTUC take on even more market share in the food industry, that it would be able to increase prices with impunity? Even with some semblance of competition, items have been cut from the menu. With virtually zero competition after the acquisition, will the situation get even worst?

Why has fish been taken off the menu? Is it a cost cutting exercise? If so, why did the General Manager of the Institutional Catering Division of NTUC Foodfare, Koh Kian Leong not mention this? Instead, he chose to mount a defense that does not answer the question by focusing on what they offer instead of why they have removed fish from the menu.

This may sound petty in isolation. $2 is after all not exorbitant. However, when you look at this incident along with the proposed acquisition of kopitiam which would give NTUC full control over the hawker food sector coupled with its purported reasons for the acquisition, this picture is less rosy.

If it wants to keep costs of food down for the consumer while yet providing nutrition and choice, why did they remove fish from the menu? How does this gel with their purported reasons for the acquisition?

Is the anti-competition watchdog looking at this incident?

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