20130629 Haze crisis but profit still priority?

(These are my thoughts about the haze crisis on my blog. Hopefully, there are some good suggestions. Please correct if there are factual errors)

Really disappointed the government did not have any concrete plan for the haze until the crisis had started.

Singaporeans had expectations of, and deserve, better planning from our highly paid civil servants.

Resources not used

Quite surprised that the government had not considered using CCs during a crisis even though they are conveniently located within HDB estates which house 80 per cent of the population.

Instead of long queues at shopping malls, CCs could have been used for the distribution of masks. (or for other issues in future crises)

Since the stock comes from the government:
– they should be distributed free.
– to all Singaporeans.

When the MOH says “The cost of N95 masks, including transport and storage, is recovered from retailers”’, which of course means the cost has been passed on to consumers i.e. citizens.

The government should not be always thinking of the profit motive/cost recovery because citizens’ health cannot be priced!

By taking care of citizens at CCs, retailers could cater to non-citizens or others who could not afford the waiting time.

The current channels of distribution only serves those with a profit motive.

Discard profit motive in any crisis

The cost of N95 masks ranges from a few cents to about 50 cents for bulk purchase. (in thousands)
The government, as the largest buyer of masks, would of course have bought them at rock bottom prices.
The cost of warehousing and SAF transportation should not even have been a consideration as assets are owned by citizens.
At a few cents per mask per citizen, it would have cost the government only a few million dollars at most, really small change in any national crisis.

By distributing to retailers, the price will always be marked up substantially because of high land and labour costs. From a recommended retail price (RRP) of between $1.80 to $2.50, Guardian and Watson’s had been selling them above the RRP before bringing the price down to $2.50 and $2.80 respectively.

What’s worse, NTUC’s Unity Health had also been pricing them at the high end at $2.50 before offering a 10 per cent! Does this sound like an organisation with a social mission?

NTUC could not have been unaware that it was selling a necessity in an unfolding crisis.

NTUC subsidiary biggest 1 day profit

With retail outlets as distribution points, it appears Unity Health’s 50 outlets have managed to rake in massive one day profits.

Profiteering became an issue which could never be prevented by ministers mere talking during a crisis. Fear overrides every other emotions.

For someone hawking 1000 masks, selling them at double large retailers’ price of $5, he makes an estimated net profit of about $4000 due to higher cost per unit for smaller order. Or much less if he had bought from retailers. For Unity Health, which conservatively assuming it makes at least $1.50, its net profit could likely have been $1,000,000 within days!

Does a minister then have any moral authority when he tells retailers not to profiteer from the haze? Why has the government not revealed how much it sold the masks to retailers?
With very few questions answered, an increasing number of Singaporeans have become more distrusting of our government.


1 The distribution points had not been planned and are obviously wrong.
2 CCs should be considered the most appropriate location during any crisis, not retail outlets.
3 NTUC did not set a good example during this crisis. (unless the government reveals Unity’s profit from masks)

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