Give public more info on Kopitiam-NTUC merger

The sale of Kopitiam to NTUC Enterprise may have a significant adverse impact on the competition in the food service industry (Views sought on NTUC Enterprise, Kopitiam deal; Sept 29).

It is all the more disconcerting that this news comes hot on the heels of the Grab-Uber acquisition being found in violation of the Competition Act.

A combined Kopitiam-NTUC Foodfare would operate 110 outlets serving over 570,000 meals a day, which probably represents about two-thirds of the market share among food courts in Singapore.

The anti-competitive implications are self-evident.

An entity with that degree of market power would hold enormous sway over supply-chain pricing and the market rate for stall rentals, as well as the capability to squeeze out smaller operators and new entrants.

Although the status of the National Trades Union Congress (NTUC) as a social enterprise could conceivably mitigate some of these potential problems, it is not a given.

The recent Hawker Centre@Our Tampines Hub problems revealed serious shortcomings with the model for hawker centres with regard to food prices and rentals.

Above all, there is a sense that the NTUC has strayed from its central mission.

Taking on additional business and social enterprise functions should not come at the expense of the NTUC's fundamental purpose of advocating for workers' rights and welfare.

The NTUC represents 900,000 rank-and-file members of various labour unions but it has become one of the largest employers in Singapore, engaging in many big businesses.

If the public is to provide meaningful feedback on the acquisition, they need to be given more information.

The Competition and Consumer Commission of Singapore should disclose the financial background of both the entities, and study the projected benefits to society that their merger would generate.

Without this data, Singaporeans are left to speculate on a merger that might be detrimental to public interest.

Paul Chan Poh Hoi

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 03, 2018, with the headline 'Give public more info on Kopitiam-NTUC merger'. Print Edition | Subscribe