Baey Yam Keng clears air over $2.50 nasi padang

Member of Parliament (MP) for Tampines GRC Baey Yam Keng stirred some debate last week after he uploaded a photo of his Nasi Padang meal on Facebook.

A Facebook user, Esther Chia, asked the MP how much the dish from the coffee shop at Tampines Blk 475 cost. Mr Baey replied that it cost $2.50, adding that he eats nasi padang "once in a long while".

Another Facebook user later claimed that he went to the same store and was charged $6 for the same dish. This sparked a debate in which some netizens said that Mr Baey should not have been charged a lower price.

To clarify the matter, Mr Baey returned to the stall to speak with the shop owner. He then explained the issue in his regular column on MyPaper, which was published today.

The English version of his article is as follows:

I love local hawker food. There are not many countries in the world like Singapore where one can easily find reasonably priced food with the same high level of hygiene and great variety. Singapore is indeed a food paradise.

Typically, when I cannot be home for my meals, or even when I am eating out with my family, I like to frequent hawker centres, coffee shops and food courts. In Parliament, I have spoken a few times on hawker centres, hawker food and our hawker culture. I have urged the government to help preserve this heritage and national identity of Singapore, and even proposed setting up a Singapore Food Museum.

I like to post photos of the hawker food I eat on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. I am not a food critic, so I tend not to comment on the food quality. Nor am I promoting the stalls. I just want to document and celebrate the richness of our hawker food that many of us love.

Last Wednesday, I was in Tampines and decided to drop by the nasi padang coffee shop at Street 44 Blk 475 for my lunch. I ordered a piece of chicken and two veggies, plus a Bandung drink. After I sat down, I gave the attendant $10 and he gave me $7 change. I thought the price was quite cheap. As the coffee shop was new in the neighborhood, I thought it could be a promotional price. I seldom order nasi padang so I am also not familiar with the typical price. I have encountered similar pricing at some Chinese rice stalls, so I did not think too much about it. As usual, I posted a photo of my nasi padang.

Subsequently, a netizen asked me how much the nasi padang was. I knew that the cordial Bandung drink would not cost too much, probably 50 cents out of the $3 I paid. So I estimated the nasi padang to be $2.50 and replied the netizen on Wednesday night.

The following day, another netizen posted on his Facebook that after seeing my post, he went to the same coffee shop and showed my nasi padang photo. However, he was charged $6. Hence, he felt that it was double standards and wondered why MPs could enjoy preferential pricing.

His post was shared widely on various social media platforms. Some netizens opined that it was the coffee shop owner who offered a discount to me, as he would for his regular customers. I had not asked for it and hence I have done nothing wrong. However, other netizens disagreed and felt that the coffee shop owner was 'bribing' me and this was corruption for a MP to accept discounts. Hence, CPIB should investigate. They also felt that when MPs enjoy such discounts, we would be out of touch, and not understand the real costs of living and hence could not appreciate the public's financial burden.

I wanted to get to the bottom of this matter and went back to the coffee shop two days ago on Sunday. As the owner has been approached by reporters, he was aware that this matter had been widely circulated online. In fact, he had wanted to see me at my Meet People Session on Monday to explain. He acknowledged that his staff had recognised me that day and out of respect for my work and service in the community, charged me only $3 when it was more than $4. It was really out of simple goodwill and there was no ulterior motive or expectations on his part. He was deeply apologetic that the matter has somehow been blown out of proportion.

The owner shared with me that since the coffee shop opening, he has been offering a special $2.50 deal for a meal and a drink for senior citizens and students. According to him, his prices are lower than other nasi padang stalls because he would like to reach out to more customers.

He was aware that a netizen claimed that he was charged $6 for ordering a chicken item and an egg item, but he seriously doubted the authenticity as it would not have cost so much. He must have ordered something else he did not declare. As there were no price labels for the different food items, the owner explained that they would usually give an overall discount depending the type of items ordered, hence the final price would differ from order to order.

I thanked the owner for his goodwill and explanation, and asked him not to feel bad as we have done nothing against our conscience.

As part of his corporate social responsibility, the owner intended to offer the $2.50 deal for one nasi padang and a drink to all customers over lunch time (11am-2pm) this coming weekend (Dec 21-22). Up to 100 customers per day will enjoy the special offer and he would donate all proceeds to the Tampines North welfare fund to help needy residents. I naturally applauded and supported his initiative.

I shared this charity plan with my activists. One of them decided to give his support by pledging dollar for dollar so as to raise more money to benefit the community.

As an elected member, I know I have to be totally above board in what I do. If there is a price clearly listed, I would not accept any discount even it was kindly offered to me.

And if I were to jump to a conclusion that all food is cheap just because I had paid $2.50 for a nasi padang, that would have been too naive of me.

On Sunday, I also had nasi padang for lunch at the coffee shop. I ordered a mutton item, an egg item and a veggie. The owner charged me the full price of $3.70. However, some netizens still refused to accept that it was the reality and insisted that I had been 'corrupt' again.

I decided that any explanation was futile and I would just let actions speak for themselves.