BEFORE embarking on its various reforms, the unity government has to first address the rising cost of living which is causing massive hardship to the lower income groups.
This is the single issue that dents the image of the unity government. Increasing the minimum monthly salary to RM2,000 is not the way out as local price levels will rise immediately to be at par with the new remuneration.
Furthermore, raising the minimum salaries nowadays will benefit foreign workers more while having heavy strains on SMEs (small medium enterprises) which are the backbone of the nation’s economy. Progressive wages will be a better option.
A large section of society is also aghast as to why the unity government is slow to implement radical measures to overcome the cost-of-living crisis.
Now there is the new local rice shortage crisis. Simply blaming the Ukrainian War or other global political tensions or the sliding value of the ringgit which are also the popular excuses of traders is not enough.
The unity government has within its power various means to force down prices and to ensure food security for the people.
Although the cost of living is due to a wide range of consumer products, the most pressing needs of consumers are vegetables, fruits, meat, fish and other perishables. The prices of all these products have sky-rocketed beyond the reach of both the B40 and M40 groups.
There is a lot of idle land nationwide which can be utilised to aid food security. Ironically, however, those who need land to cultivate do not have the means to access such land as they are put off by high rentals.
In Kuala Lumpur and Selangor, the cost of living has hiked tremendously. In Selangor, vast areas of idle brush land in the outlying rural districts can be used for growing lowland vegetables, fruits and for livestock farming.
Sadly, the Selangor state government is totally indifferent to the cost-of-living crisis which is the highest in the country and not doing anything about it. It relies on the inefficient and incompetent Selangor Agricultural Development Corporation (PKPS) to spearhead agricultural development and productivity.
New innovation to develop agriculture and increase productivity and to cope with the harmful effects of climate change need to be found. Selangor’s private sector should be given incentives and encouragement to be involved in agriculture.
Former mining land with large pools can be re-used for farming fish like tilapia, carps, catfish and others. Surprise checks must be conducted on Malaysian fishermen especially in the west coast to check whether they are disposing of their catches elsewhere for higher prices.
The prices of fish are ridiculously high and something is surely amiss. As fishermen enjoy lots of subsidies, the unity government needs to have a strong control over them as well as to deal with middlemen who are also part of the exploitative system to inflate fish prices.
Red flag on eating out
More effective enforcement to control prices in the wholesale and retail markets – alongside compulsory price tags – is crucial to bring down prices. The prices of vegetables, fish, fruits and meats can be brought down quickly if the unity government takes effective steps.
Remember the time when the authorities asked the people to support local fruits to help our farmers? Now the prices of bananas, rambutan, papayas and others have spiralled out of control.
The less said about durians – once an affordable favourite – the better. The poor now can only watch the rich eating durians sold by roadside durian vendors! The people are now paying hefty price for supporting local fruits!
In many countries, the best agricultural produce is retained for the citizens and only the surplus is exported. In Malaysia, it is the other way round! Export controls need to be considered to reduce prices to ensure affordability by the average wage earners.
At a glance, Budget 2024 presents a good opportunity to catalyse the agricultural sector to provide greater food security at reasonable prices to the people while bringing down the cost of living.
Economy Minister Rafizi Ramli hit the nail on the head when he stated recently that the eating out addiction further impoverishes the people.
Despite enduring poverty, the B40 can be notorious for ‘lavish dining’ at mamak restaurants or Malay eateries when they can easily opt for healthier home-cooked meals for a fraction of the bill. After all, the prices of food and drinks in the restaurants have gone up dramatically with food portions having been reduced.
In this regard, the government has to ensure that all eateries – both big or small – must issue itemised bills and receipts as well as having a menu (booklet) stating their prices on every table. Nowadays, there is a lot of deception and price exploitation by eatery owners and their workers who fleece unsuspecting customers and patrons.
If despite all these efforts, the unity government is still unable to control price increases of essential goods, food and drinks, then enforcement officers will have to resort to nabbing a few towkays and mamaks by confining them in police lock-ups for price exploitation and profiteering.
This will drive home the point that the unity government is serious about bringing down food price levels that are harming the people.
The unity government may even need to come up with a subsidy card system to ensure subsidies reach the targeted groups. The Bantuan Sara Hidup (BSH) database can be used to select the households and individuals who qualify for aid.
Retail chains like 99 Speedmart, KK Supermart as well as supermarkets like Mydin, Tesco, Econsave and others that have a nationwide presence can help out in this effort. More items need to be included in the aid package for the poor. It is also time to limit the number of Rahmah schemes. It is a case of one Rahmah too many confusing the people.
The unity government can give more relevant and proper names for these schemes to help the poor. The Budget 2024 is also a good time to address the cost of living which is the main reason for the dislike and disaffection with the government.
It must be noted that hungry people are also angry people who could be a source of trouble and agitation against the unity government. – Sept 20, 2023
V. Thomas is a FocusM reader.
The views expressed are solely of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Focus Malaysia.
Main pic credit: Berita Harian