Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Good value for whose money?

"If this $10 million gets 20 per cent of our commuters to shift their behaviour, I think that's fairly good value for money", so said Mr Janil Puthucheary, MP for Pasir Ris-Punggol GRC. Mr P was echoing the government's numbers when he was speaking, rather proudly, as if he had just discovered the cure for dengue fever, about the Singapore government's decision to underwrite the cost of offering free travel on our subways since he was the first one to suggest this in Parliament not too long ago. 

Can Mr P explain to me how he thinks that the government's 20% is "good value for (my) money"? Usually when someone says that, he has a reference point. For example, product A's price is $100. In a promotion, the seller offers it at $100, and throws in services valued at $30. That's good value for money because my money has been able to obtain more products/services. The price has not gone up nor down, just that value has been added to that same $100. In many people's estimation, that's good value for money.

In the context of this free-ride(r) programme, the commuter pays nothing and gets a more comfortable ride. Obviously it is good value for them. But this is lopsided. Only a few will benefit. Does Mr P mean the tax-payer who is funding this and ensuring that his fellow-citizen is happy although the tax-payer gains nothing? Rather altruistic, but some people love to be do-gooders and thereby gain value for their money, somehow. Or maybe good value refers to increased positive sentiment by the people towards the government on an erstwhile intractable transportation issue, in which case the $10 million is good value mileage for the government, at said same tax-payers' expense?

Any way you look at it, value is provided by tax-payers whether they benefit or not. But the government appears to benefit either way. I suspect that Mr P had the PAP government in mind when he made that remark about good (political?) value for money.