From ‘Singapore budget 2014: Expatriate living costs survey does not reflect locals’ costs: Tharman’, 5 March 2014, article by Janice Heng, ST
Cost-of-living reports, such as the Economist Intelligence Unit one that has just ranked Singapore the priciest city in the world, are aimed at comparing costs of living for expatriates and thus do not reflect the cost of living for a local resident, Finance Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam said in his wrap-up speech on the Budget debate on Wednesday.
There are thus two important differences between what such reports measure and what affects the living costs of Singaporeans, he added. One is currency. “An important reason why we’ve become expensive for expatriates is that the Singapore dollar has strengthened,” said Mr Tharman. That makes things pricier for an expatriate who is paid in a foreign currency. But it improves Singaporeans’ purchasing power, both at home when buying imported goods, and abroad.
The second important difference is the goods and services whose prices are being measured, which are “quite different from the goods and services consumed by ordinary Singaporeans.” Mr Tharman listed some of the things included in the EIU consumption basket: imported cheese, fillet mignon, “Burberry-type raincoats”, the four best seats in a theatre, and three-course dinners in high-end restaurants for four people.
In addition, when it comes to transport, these expatriate cost-of-living surveys only take into account the cost of cars and taxis, not public transport. Cars here are indeed more expensive than in other cities because Singapore is a small country but its public transport and taxi fares are cheaper than in many other hubs, noted Mr Tharman.
“It’s not that these surveys are wrong, it’s not that they are misguided. They’re measuring something quite different from the cost of living for an ordinary local.”
It’s not just imported cheese and fillet mignon that ‘ordinary Singaporeans’ can’t seem to afford according to our DPM. We also don’t dress up as well as our far more dapper expats, who go for $4000 Giorgo Armani men’s suits and drink Moet and Chandon. Surely there are more Singaporeans driving cars than expats, which doesn’t explain how the price comparison for cars is ‘measuring something quite different’. You’d only need to find an equal if not SMALLER country than Singapore in the list with cheaper cars to counter our minister’s weak justification for the sky high prices. Just rating the stuff paupers live off day-to-day is also a misrepresentation of the ‘costliness’ of living, living for most of us involving some form of occasional enjoyment and splurging other than the core human functions of eating, sleeping and shitting. Yes, that includes 3 course dinners in ‘high end’ restaurants with fillet mignon as the main.
The EIU report says nothing about their data being exclusive to expats, and Tharman’s assumption is challenged by the fact that the list includes not so expat ‘friendly’ cities like Damascus, Algiers and Karachi (all among the cheapest cities to live in). Somewhere in the report also talks about the price of something as basic as a 1kg LOAF of BREAD. In Singapore it’s $3.36 vs $1.21 in Mumbai. Contrary to Tharman’s expat hypothesis, locals do eat sliced bread. I suppose Tharman’s version of expats go to artisan boulangeries and eat their dough with foie gras or steak tartare instead of spreading upon it the disgusting green goo we penniless locals call kaya.
The rich foreigners love it here, a good proportion of them reportedly earning more than $200K a year, and with that kind of money it doesn’t matter if Singapore is the most ‘expensive city’ in the world or not since they live off the finest things in life anyway. That is, until they piss us off and bugger off to Perth. We’ll need to see the complete results to believe that the survey is expat-centric instead of taking Tharman’s word for it hook, line and sinker. This preview chart already shows you how the price of cigarettes and unleaded petrol here fare against the rest of the top 10 cities, stuff that people need, whether you’re expat, local or PRC.
No surprise here, but we probably have the most EXPENSIVE bottle of table wine in the world, and this $25.04 on average may be even an underestimate given the recent tax hike. Thank God Singaporeans can at least still buy a plate of chicken rice with the same amount you pay for a 1kg loaf of bread. I wonder if the survey rates the cost of something as mundane as raising a child, which according to sgasianparents, is $340,000, just about the price of a Mercedes Benz E-class with COE. Singaporeans, don’t even think about it.
There are flaws in this survey, no doubt, but brushing it aside as one targetting just expats without a fair definition of ‘expat’ and making it a defensive ‘us vs them’ exercise is a typical symptom of blame-shifting instead of self-reflection. Singapore is the most expensive place to buy some things, maybe imported cheese and lobster mee pok included, but you can still get a cup of coffee for less than a dollar, a haircut under 10 bucks or go swimming for less than $2 in some places. Perhaps our leaders should angle their perspective that way rather than making tenuous assumptions that don’t hold water (which won’t stay ‘cheap’ for long judging by the way this drought is going).