Singapore downplays ‘world’s most expensive city’ tag

/ 10:29 AM March 06, 2014

A couple sit on deck chairs facing the financial skyline along the Singapore river, Tuesday, March 4, 2014, in Singapore. AP PHOTO

SINGAPORE—Singapore on Wednesday played down a global survey showing that it is now the world’s most expensive city, a finding that has triggered outrage among Singaporeans struggling with rising costs.

Finance Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam said reports like the 2014 Worldwide Cost of Living survey by the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) are aimed at measuring expatriates’ expenses.


“It is not that these surveys are wrong, or that they are misguided. But they are measuring something quite different from the cost of living for an ordinary local in different cities around the world,” Tharman said in a parliamentary speech.

In the survey released Tuesday, Singapore toppled Tokyo as the world’s costliest city, a result the EIU attributed to the high cost of cars and utilities as well as a strong local currency. Paris was in second place.


The survey examines prices of 160 products and services including food, toiletries, clothes and domestic help in 140 cities, and is aimed at helping companies calculate allowances for executives overseas.

Tharman noted that the basket of goods and services evaluated by the EIU included imported cheese, filet mignon, “Burberry-type raincoats,” the four best seats in a theater and three-course dinners for four in high-end restaurants.

“The EIU tries to put together a basket of what they think are expatriate costs, perhaps more on the higher end of expatriates,” Tharman said.

“It is quite different from the goods and services consumed by ordinary Singaporeans.”

He also reiterated a point noted by the EIU—that Singapore’s rising living costs for expatriates are driven by the strengthening of its currency.

“What is important for us is that Singaporeans, and particularly low- and middle-income Singaporeans, have incomes that grow faster than the cost of living,” Tharman said.

Jon Copestake, editor of the EIU report, acknowledged the points raised by Tharman but told AFP that the basket of goods includes many everyday items as well.


“The survey basket ranges from a loaf of bread to a luxury car. In fact, the highest-weighted category in our survey is that of groceries and everyday staples which include goods like fresh fruits and vegetables, meat, fish, rice, etc,” Copestake said.

“Expatriates make up a very significant proportion of Singapore’s population, and this means that the results of our survey will be more keenly felt by a higher proportion of the people who live and work there.”

The survey’s release provoked strong online reactions from Singaporeans, who saw it as confirmation of their complaints about soaring living costs.

Others, however, saw it as a sign that Singapore has attained high living standards.

Singapore’s per capita income of more than $51,000 in 2012 masks a widening income gap between the richest and poorest citizens.—Bhavan Jaipragas

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TAGS: cities, Lifestyle, Singapore, survey
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