Workers’ Party (WP) Non Constituency Member of Parliament (NCMP) Dennis Tan Lip Fong is set to ask Minister for Trade and Industry, Chan Chun Sing, about the proposed sale of Kopitiam’s chain of food centres to labour-movement linked NTUC Enterprise.
Earlier last month, NTUC Enterprise and local food court operator Kopitiam announced that NTUC would acquire Kopitiam Investment and its subsidiaries by the end of the year. This deal would mean that NTUC Enterprise would take over the 80 outlets Kopitiam owns across Singapore, including the famous Lau Pa Sat Festival Market.
NTUC Enterprise announced that Kopitiam would retain its name, management teams, workers and even its loyalty programme and stored-value Kopitiam cards, and said that the deal means that the two entities will continue operating as separate but “work together to leverage mutual capabilities and seek out common opportunities for synergies, including the use of technologies”.
Despite this assurance, the proposed takeover rang alarm bells for many Singaporeans who saw the move as part of NTUC’s plans to monopolise the hawker industry.
Responding to public backlash, the Competition and Consumer Commission of Singapore (CCCS) subsequently invited the public to give feedback on whether the impending sale of Kopitiam to NTUC would infringe competition rules.
One prominent voice who spoke out against the proposed sale is Makansutra founder and renowned local food guru KF Seetoh who slammed NTUC for trying to monopolise and profiteer from the hawker industry and urged the authorities to keep Kopitiam out of NTUC’s control.
Pointing out that NTUC already manages 14 food courts, 10 coffee shops and 9 hawker centres and that Kopitiam’s 80 food courts will strengthen NTUC’s hold over the hawker industry, Seetoh noted that the workers at Kopitiam’s food courts will have no choice but to abide by NTUC’s rules since they are not unionised.
Seetoh called on the competition watchdog to “step in hard” and stop NTUC’s proposed takeover of Kopitiam so as to “create an even and competitive level playing field in this food culture which is very dear and near to all Singaporeans.”
Offering his own help to advise the Hawker Committee if need be, Seetoh sank in another dig at NTUC’s alleged profiteering in other areas. He said, “I am sure NTUC is very capable of raking in even more monies (i lost track of how much they made “for the people”) in other areas. Pse keep this one out of their control.”
Tan, a member of the only opposition party in the Singapore parliament that is dominated by the PAP, revealed on Facebook last week that he plans to ask Chan “whether the proposed acquisition of the Kopitiam food operator chain by NTUC Enterprise will result in a substantial lessening of competition”.
The WP NCMP is also expected to ask Chan whether the acquisition will be “suspended pending the approval of the Competition Commission of Singapore, so as to avoid a repeat of the situation with Grab’s acquisition of Uber’s South East Asian operations where its impact on ride-hailing platform services in Singapore could not be reversed.”
Revealing that he has already filed these two questions to Parliament, Tan added that he will be filing more questions in due course:
“I filed the following Parliamentary Question last Friday for the next sitting in November 2018. Will be filing more questions in due course.
“To ask the Minister for Trade and Industry (a) whether the proposed acquisition of the Kopitiam food operator chain by NTUC Enterprise will result in a substantial lessening of competition; (b) will the acquisition be suspended pending the approval of the Competition Commission of Singapore, so as to avoid a repeat of the situation with Grab’s acquisition of Uber’s South East Asian operations where its impact on ride-hailing platform services in Singapore could not be reversed.”
I filed the following Parliamentary Question last Friday for the next sitting in November 2018. Will be filing more…
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