Friday, May 09, 2008

Cash in the card

NETS decision to charge a non-refundable $5 for its cashcard, which is the only card at the moment that can be used to pay for motorist's ERP charges, amongst other fee paying establishments in Singapore, has been decried as monopolistic and unfair by many. This is made worse by the refundable deposit of existing cards, but these cards have a life-span of 5 years. Some day, you have to give up the free cards for a paid one. So sooner or later, you just have to ante up if you want to live in Singapore. Sounds familiar. There is perhaps no better example of an oppressive instrument of trade today - the $5 cashcard.

And in true Singapore fashion, people have asked for justification for such a fee, given that NETS is monopolising this sector currently. Of course monopolists do not have to give a reason. As far as they are concerned, you just take it or leave it. And because public services have locked the consumer into the card, there really is no choice but to pay up, even if the card costs $50 a pop, really. That seems to be what the Competition Commission of Singapore (CCS) is implying when it has refused to act to stem this monopolistic action by NETS. It says that by the end of the year, LTA will provide alternative cards, which ostensibly, will charge less for its cards. In a truly competitive environment, this will happen, but in Singapore, what state initiated scheme has truly been competitive? Take for example bus and train services. Competitive? Surely not as the two transport providers have been given a neatly carved up portion of the transport landscape to operate in so that there will be minimal duplication - and thus competition. Good from the point of view of using scarce resources, but bad because it does not promote competition that benefits commuters. That's why the Public Transport Council (PTC) exists. And that's why the CCS also exists, to arbitrate and ensure that there is no profiteering. It says that competition will come, and therefore there is nothing for it to do now about the NETS $5 fee for its cashcards.

Well, when competition truly does comes, then the CCS ceases to be relevant. So why isn't it doing anything when it is relevant today? You have to ask the boss of CCS that. In the eyes of the public, it has copped out of its role as a watchdog. There will never ever be competition in the Singapore context where cashcards are concerned, not when the 'alternatives' are engineered by civil servants. You'd probably end up with a situation similar to the transport operators - enough players (2) to claim some sort of competition, but not enough to make CCS an irrelevant body.

I suppose everyone wants to keep his job, even if it is at the expense of another thousand.


Xtrocious said...

Just look at how wonderful competition has done for sports viewers following the entry of SingTel into the Pay TV space...

Anonymous said...

At least now the ezlink card (introduced in 2002) is already regulated by PTC. NETS cash card nobody cares, while LTA has let the ERP payment mode be totally captured by a pivate commerical firm since 1998!