ELSON: NTUC has tried to frame its acquisition of Kopitiam as a benevolent move that will give the public affordable meals that cost as low as S$1.50.
What it didn’t mention is that those S$1.50 meals aren’t available at all its outlets, and even if they are, are only available to an exclusive group of people.
This is how NTUC framed its move to become a major player in the food court market:
“NTUC Enterprise and its social enterprises aim to ensure that everybody has access to affordable, quality goods and services. This intended acquisition will allow us to do this by expanding our social footprint. We are also exploring how to provide not only affordable food, but also healthier meal options. Current plans include increasing the number of Rice Garden stalls islandwide where meals can cost as low as $1.50. This would allow us to reach out to more people. Rice Garden, a social outreach programme of NTUC Foodfare, provides affordable, nutritious meals at hawker centres and coffee shops.”
Now here’s the cold hard truth – most Singaporeans don’t qualify for that, or in the words of the visionary Teo Ser Luck (who predicted his own durian downfall), there’s no guarantee you get to eat hor.
The S$1.50 meals are only meant for needy Singaporeans, as stated on NTUC’s website:
NTUC also states that it is concerned about rental for stallholders:
“We understand that rental fees are a key concern for stall operators. If the acquisition happens, we hope to leverage each other’s strengths and, with the greater synergy, hope to provide better experiences for our stall operators, customers and employees. NTUC Enterprise is committed to do good and improve the lives of families in Singapore.”
But what does NTUC do? Jack up rentals. To the point where even local makan guru KF Seetoh also buay tahan and had to whack them for it. He has suggested that NTUC’s move into the food court business will kill off hawker culture for good.
At the heart of it, the likely reason why NTUC is going into the food court business is, simply put, money. Hawkers must not only rent their stall from NTUC, but also buy ingredients from NTUC. This is what NTUC indicated in their ST forum letter:
“The sourcing and procurement of food supplies and raw materials via NTUC Foodfare’s central kitchen and supply chain network are available. This helps them with food preparation and better management of business costs.”
So yes, it looks like NTUC wants to have its cake and eat it too with a monopoly.
Did we mention the point about who’s going to represent the interest of hawkers if their own union is the one who’s their landlord? Oh yes, we did.
So, for the good of the public? Someone has to pick up the bill somehow, seeing that NTUC is not a charity.
And what about the impact on private enterprise seeing that at every nook and cranny there’s a government agency looking to steal our rice bowls?