Singtel’s – Optus’ marketing ploy exposed (and a brief history of Singapore Government’s Corporations’ negative influence in the region)

9 Jun

According to Your Day, which is a University of New South Wales (UNSW) campus leaflet, they have discovered that SingTel Optus has been caught ‘selling students on the UNSW campus its worst mobile broadband plan’.

The newsletter claimed that as Optus was selling students two year plans of $24.99 per month, non-student callers to Optus sales were offered a deal with more than twice the included downloads for the same price. Optus even sent out a brochure before O Week (which is short for Orientation Week) offering the better plan. Having been discovered, the company is now offering to make amends by ‘working with students on a case by case basis’ if they call the organisation at 1800 780 239 (Your Day 2008).

Such exposures will definitely cause the Singapore Government and its government owned corporations a further dent in their squeaky clean reputation. Just last year, UNSW pulled out of its Asia Campus in Singapore within 6 months of its operations and suffered a huge loss.

In 2005, the island city state executed 25 year old Australian, Nguyen Tuong Van. This was despite widespread protest from ordinary Australians; and pleas and condemnation from the Australian government, lawyers, trade unions and human rights groups. His crime? Carrying about 400g (14 ounces) of heroin and transiting in Singapore’s Changi Airport while travelling from Cambodia to Australia. (BBC News 2005).

Such blatant human rights violations are also echoed by news reports which does not paint a rosy picture of the Singapore authorities. Last September, Eric Ellis, in his article, ‘Web of Cash, Power and Cronies’ highlights the authoritarian state’s close relationships with another military regime, Burma. Among the allegations include Singapore companies supporting the Burmese military in promoting tourism; providing telecommunication and information technology which was crucial in monitoring Burmese dissent groups; and ammunitions such as ‘guns, rockets, armoured personnel carriers and grenade launchers’ which could have been used in suppressing the uprising last year. He also quotes former assistant secretary of state for the US Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs, Robert Gelbard, who said that ‘half (of) Singapore’s investment in Burma has been tied to the family of narco-trafficker Lo Hsing Han.'(Ellis 2007)

Singapore’s investments in Australia far surpasses Australian’s holdings in the smaller country. As at the end of 2006, its investment in Australian is equivalent to $26.9 billion as opposed to $14.3 billion. Singapore’s investment in Australia includes energy infrastructure assets.

Temasek, which is a state owned corporation has stakes in ABC Learning. Singapore’s Government Investment Corporation (GIC) also has stakes in Myer Melbourne, Westfield Parramatta, and the Mayne Group’s portfolio of private hospitals in 2003. Other huge investments include SingTel’s acquisition of Optus in 2001, and Singapore Power’s (a utilities company) purchase of the US TXU Corporation’s assets in Victoria and South Australia in 2004. Australia’s investment in Singapore include Toll Holdings’ acquisition of SembCorp Logistics and QANTAS’s joint venture project to establish Singapore-based budget airline Jetstar Asia (Australian Government Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade 2008).

Such regional investments from the Singapore Government and their related corporations have not been met with welcome given that Temasek and GIC have not practised accountability by disclosing its financial statements. Sometimes, these government related corporation have also engaged in questionable or unethical business practices.

In Thailand, for example, anti- Singapore sentiments and protests were held in 2006 when its Prime Minister, Thaksin Shinawatra sold Shin Corp. to Temasek for 1.88 billion US dollars, tax free (Macan-Markar 2006). In 2007, The Business Competition Supervisory Commission (KPPU), an Indonesian anti- monopoly watchdog also accused Temasek of breaking competitive laws as it owns Telkomsel and Indosat, two of the largest telecommunications company which covers at least 75% of the national market. KPPU claimed that ownership in both corporations allowed Temasek to engage in price fixing and monopolizing the market (Guerin 2007).

At the end of the day, it probably matters little whether the Optus blunder was a genuine mistake or otherwise. The Singapore’s Government foreign policy, and its involvement in the region, through its state owned corporations, have been perceived as a negative influence. No amount of public relations can salvage the situation unless it decides to stop condoning military regimes, respect human rights within its borders, and that its government owned corporations, especially GICs and Temasek, becomes more accountable.


Works Cited

Your Day 2008, ‘Optus’ “Awesome Student Only” SCAM?’, 2 June.

‘Australian Anger Over Singapore Hanging’, BBC News, 2 December 2005, accessed 6 June 2008.

Ellis, E 2007, ‘Web of cash, power and cronies’, The Age, 29 September, accessed 6 June 2008.

Australian Government Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, 2008, Singapore Country Brief, April, accessed 6 June 2008

Macan-Markar, M 2006, ‘Anti-Thaksin Anger Vented on Singapore’, IPS News, 3 March, accessed 6 June 2008.

Guerin, B 2007, ‘Telecom tangle for Singapore’s Temasek’, Asia Times, 22 November, accessed 6 June 2008.


2 Responses to “Singtel’s – Optus’ marketing ploy exposed (and a brief history of Singapore Government’s Corporations’ negative influence in the region)”

  1. Jason Whitmen June 9, 2008 at 12:44 pm #

    I found your blog on google and read a few of your other posts. I just added you to my Google News Reader. Keep up the good work. Look forward to reading more from you in the future.

  2. Roger June 9, 2008 at 6:52 pm #

    Why am i not suprised, so glad i told Optus to get —— when I was about to changeover from telstra when they hanged Nguyen Tuong Van

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