The price of food is one of the most important issues any country will ever have to deal with. It is an absolute necessity and a commodity that everyone needs in order to live. It is on the premise of ensuring low and affordable food prices that NTUC Enterprise is proposing to take over food court giant, Kopitiam.
However, how will NTUC Enterprise be able to explain the raising of dish washing fees by 40 per cent to $580 a month by NTUC Foodfare? How does this action gel with its purported objective to keep the costs of food down? If the costs of operations for hawkers (of which dish washing fees are a part of) are increased, it will have to pass these on to customers. Wouldn't this increase prices rather than keep them low?
One may argue that the hawkers can absorb the costs. However, it is important to remember that hawkers need to make a living too. The way to keep prices down is to ensure that hawkers do not have to pay exorbitant operational costs! An increment of 40 percent is also a significant surge. Is it fair to take over and present existing hawkers with a much higher invoice? Looking at this example, it just doesn't add up. Is NTUC trying to create its own monopoly or is it trying to keep costs down?
Perhaps, our consumer watchdog should require NTUC Enterprise to submit a comprehensive report on how it can actually keep costs down. without concrete information to back up its claim of wanting to keep food prices down, how can we be sure that this will actually be done? Once a monopoly is formed, the consumer will have even less power to keep NTUC accountable as they will have less choice!
Further, what is there to stop NTUC from increasing the operational costs of hawkers thereby forcing them out? The hawkers do not have a union to represent their interests. Oh wait, I forget, NTUC is supposed to be a trade union! Is there no conflict of interest in this?
While each of these NTUC entities may be separate entities, they are all related companies which makes keeping each of them accountable difficult. Looking at how NTUC Foodfare has increased the prices for hawkers so shortly after taking over the Old Airport Road hawker centre, how can we be sure that NTUC Enterprise will not do the same for all of Kopitiam's outlets after the planned acquisition? I would really urge the anti-competition watchdog to seriously consider this.