Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Atypically Singapore

Yet there are some things that happens in Singapore and nowhere else in the world. You see, Singapore is an eat-out nation. People tend to finish their work day after 6 and after factoring in the traveling time, reach home around 7, or later. So in a family where both husband and wife work, there just isn't the time to whip up a home-cooked meal. Eating out during the weekdays is fairly common, so anyone in Singapore for the first time always remark that Singapore is a food paradise. Paradise to them, but a necessity for the locals, really.

Thus when it was reported that a new food centre was being built in Bedok (yeah...that Eastern Revamp again) to replace the existing one, it wasn't really new. What was interesting is what existing stall operators were concerned about.Some asked that when (not "if") they moved over to the new food centre, they'd be charged higher rentals,. This is something that happens all the time with spanking new facilities. One operator was quoted as saying "We don't want to raise our food prices because of the rent...this is a place for HDB Heartlanders to have their three meals" (Sunday Times, 16 Jan 2010 page 2). Funny this. You would think that these businesses are acting out of character. As a business, isn't it their concern to bring in a profit? They shouldn't need to care if rentals go up because they can then justifiably charge more to sustain their margins. Let the government worry about the people's complaints. Yet in Singapore, the government always chorus that market prices should dictate and reflect the true cost of doing business. So if rentals go up, so be it, they'd say. There is very little by way of effort to keep the old prices, as far as the government goes. New means progress, Progress comes at a higher price. That's the mantra that always gets chanted. In this instance, you'd wonder who better represents the needs of the residents - the food operators or the government?

The tender system is probably one of the culprits behind the incessant rise of prices. We do not yet know if the NEA or private developer is building this new place. If a private developer comes in, the result is a foregone conclusion. Look at the development of Kopitiam Square in Sengkang. From the tender exercise, the winning bid was easily close to a quarter million dollars more than the second highest bid. As a result, food prices must be charged at a level that can sustain this cost. In other words, higher prices must be charged. We ask who benefits from all these and you are right - the government coffers. Now isn't that a good thing, since this means the government can dish out more goodies come the year end, or during budget time? But that's the point. They get to decide how to spend that money, and in the process either arm-twist or make people beholden to them. Now isn't that dandy? Using your money to fulfill their own purposes?

Before I get gazetted, let me just say that if you do not agree with me, you can always leave a comment - the very policy advocated by the Singapore government - the right of reply.

And no, I do not receive a single cent from my mother for blogging, much less from foreigners.

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