SINGAPORE: Social enterprises and in particular cooperatives help to make for a better Singapore, said MP for Marine Parade GRC and managing director of NTUC FairPrice, Seah Kian Peng.
He was speaking during the Budget debate in Parliament on Wednesday.
Mr Seah referred to opposition MP for Hougang Png Eng Huat's comments about an NTUC cooperative, NTUC Foodfare.
Mr Png had said in Parliament on Tuesday that while NTUC Foodfare is touted as a social cooperative, it is still a members-only organisation as one needs to be a union member to enjoy special prices and value meals.
He had also referred to the decision to appoint NTUC Foodfare to run the first new hawker centre in Bukit Panjang and said that if the co-operative was enjoying subsidised rental, then it must benefit all consumers.
Mr Seah felt that Mr Png's comments had cast certain aspersions and there was a need to respond and clarify.
Mr Seah explained that the Foodfare Co-operative was set up by NTUC in 1995 - just like all other NTUC social enterprises - to help all Singaporeans, not just union members or certain target groups.
This was amidst a backdrop of rampant price increases and profiteering by F&B private operators during the introduction of the Goods and Services Tax (GST).
So Foodfare's mission is to keep cooked food prices affordable and ensure that all Singaporeans and consumers can benefit from its initiatives.
Mr Seah added that while Foodfare strives to serve every Singaporean, not just its union members, it strives to do more for the poor and needy, among them those on the Public Assistance Scheme.
He explained: "As a social enterprise, Foodfare has extended an extra helping hand to those who are on the Public Assistance Scheme and to the elderly.
"This can be seen from its $1.99 economic rice community project as well as its recent launch of its Budget Pick programme where these groups of people get extra help with discounted meals.
"And for the avoidance of doubt, NTUC FoodFare does not enjoy any subsidised rental from government or NEA (National Environment Agency) in any of the premises they occupy as Mr Png suggested. They have to make an offer and if successful, pay market rates for the (use of the) premises, like anyone else.
"Thus I find Mr Png's insinuations insulting, not only to the co-operatives, (but) they also cast a slur on our efforts and demean the work of the many people who work in and for co-operatives."
Mr Seah stressed that co-operatives are a check on pure market forces and they have social, not political ends.
Mr Liang Eng Hwa, an MP for Holland-Bukit Timah GRC, also weighed in.
He said: "At my workplace at MBFC, the Marina Bay Financial Centre, we do have an NTUC Foodfare. And despite the high rentals at that area - I think that's one of the premium office locations - NTUC Foodfare (does provide) cheaper and affordable food. For example, a cup of coffee there costs 90 cents."