Friday 20 December 2013

MP speaks up over nasi padang furore

By Maryam Mokhtar, The Straits Times, 18 Dec 2013

IT STARTED as a seemingly innocuous $3 meal of nasi padang and rose syrup drink.

But after Tampines GRC MP Baey Yam Keng posted a picture of the food on his Facebook page last Wednesday, it sparked an online furore.

A netizen claimed he was charged $6 for the same dish at Al-Madina Muslim Restaurant, prompting others to accuse Mr Baey of receiving preferential treatment and not being aware of food prices.

Yesterday, he said his conscience was clear and he did not knowingly accept a discount for the meal of two vegetables, chicken, rice and a glass of bandung.

The stall in Tampines Street 44 had just been set up and did not display prices; he rarely ate nasi padang; and he gave $10 and was given $7 in change, he added.

Mr Baey stressed that his actions were "above board", reiterating a point he made in a column in yesterday's MyPaper newspaper.

Netizens had also accused him of being out of touch, to which the MP replied that he did not say the food was cheap.

"I think I deserve better credit. It would be quite simplistic of me to make such a statement," he told The Straits Times.

Some netizens, the nasi padang seller and other MPs defended Mr Baey, saying the matter has been blown out of proportion.

The hawker, Mr Kuthubuden Shaik Dawood, 47, told The Straits Times yesterday: "Mr Baey didn't know we gave him the discount; we just collected the money from him."

His staff had recognised the MP and charged him less, he added. Mr Kuthubuden also said he will offer a $2.50 deal to 100 customers for a plate of nasi padang and a drink between 11am and 2pm this weekend. All proceeds will go to the Tampines North welfare fund for needy residents.

The netizen who claimed he was charged $6 for the same meal, a Fernando Fonseca, declined to be interviewed. But Mr Kuthubuden insisted he must have ordered more, based on how his stall prices its food.

MPs said they would usually insist on paying the full price, especially if it is stated.

Marine Parade GRC MP Tin Pei Ling said she would not accept discounts on food, as a matter of principle. Chua Chu Kang GRC MP Alex Yam added: "When offered a discount or free drinks, we tell the stallholders we appreciate their gesture... and we try as much as we can to err on the side of caution to ensure everything we do is above board."

Mr Baey, one of the PAP's most active MPs on social media, said he will continue to remain active online. "It's a learning point in how to deal with such an online response," he said. "But it's important to be consistent... and I've no intention of changing it."

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