Is a subsidy for the needy a true subsidy, when some items have no subsidy?
I refer to the article “NTUC Foodfare: Fish or chicken drumstick not for seniors or Comcare people at subsidized price” (theonlinecitizen, Oct 17).
It states that “Last Thursday (11 OCT), a member of the public, Mr Lee Chee Meng, wrote to ST Forumcomplaining that NTUC Foodfare does not give patrons much choice for the subsidized meals. NTUC Foodfare gives special discounts to Singaporeans who are on Comcare or are concessionary cardholders, such as senior citizens or NTUC union members.
Mr Lee wrote, “When Rice Garden was set up, senior citizens and NTUC union members could buy a $2 meal that included two vegetables and one meat item. My non-vegetarian choice was normally sardine.”
“However, now the same $2 meal is restricted to two vegetables and pork, stewed chicken or curry chicken,” he revealed. “There is no variety in our meals with such a restriction.”
“I know of commercial operators selling three items without any constraints on what customers can choose from the menu. If they can operate profitably, I don’t see why Rice Garden cannot do so. I thought being a social enterprise implied that the main objective is not to make substantial profits,” he added.
NTUC Foodfare responds
Replying to Mr Lee on ST Forum today (16 Oct), the General Manager of the Institutional Catering Division of NTUC Foodfare, Koh Kian Leong, defended NTUC.
Koh started by saying that NTUC’s Rice Garden is a community meal programme which was started in 2009, to “provide affordable, nutritious cooked food, in particular, to the lower income group”.
“We would like to clarify that subsidised customers and customers paying the full price are offered the same variety of dishes of up to 13 vegetable and meat dishes (depending on stall size),” he said. “The whole range of dishes on offer is available to all customers, regardless of whether they are entitled to subsidies or not.””
As to “But Koh also said, “However, to offer greater variety to those who are less budget-conscious, we also offer certain dishes which are priced higher such as fish or chicken drumstick.”
“If a customer, regardless of whether he is paying the full or subsidised price, chooses to purchase these dishes, then he will have to pay a higher price for the meal,” he added.
“We are committed to ensuring that everyone is able to enjoy a wholesome and nutritious meal at an affordable price at Rice Garden.”
In other words, Mr Lee was right to point out that subsidized meals for Comcare or concessionary cardholders do not include certain dishes like fish or chicken drumstick” – shouldn’t it as a matter of principle that a subsidy for the needy be applied across the board to all the normal prices?
Otherwise, what’s the point of a subsidy or is it really a subsidy – when a needy’s choice is restricted such that some items are sold to them arguably, without any subsidy?
With regard to “It’s not known why fish is priced higher by NTUC, since one of their labour MPs, Halimah Yacob, who is now the President of Singapore, once told the media, “For example, the price of chicken may be rising fast, but we can encourage Singaporeans to turn to alternative sources of protein, such as fish.”
She was implying that fish is cheaper than chicken.
In any case, Mr Lee is not talking about Soon Hock or garoupa. He just wanted to eat canned sardine but yet, NTUC Foodfare deemed any kind of fish dishes to be of higher prices” – I just have one simple question for NTUC Foodfare – what are your profits or losses, since your web site says “coming soon” for the financials?
Leong Sze Hian