Fuel price hike wrong approach to fiscal reform: Institut Rakyat


Institut Rakyat has come up with a quite a good analyis of the implications of the petrol price hike.

SEPT 5: In February this year, Prime Minister Najib Razak stated that the price of RON95 would be sustained in spite of the rise in global oil prices.

Come April, Ismail Sabri Yaakob, formerly minister of Domestic Trade, Cooperatives and Consumerism stated “Petrol is a major essential item and if the government increases the price, it will result in traders resorting to hiking their prices as well and this will burden the people,” said Ismail.

That month, Najib assured Malaysians that subsidies would continue under his administration as he was focused on controlling the rising cost of living. Then Barisan Nasional won the general elections in May. Four months later their promises have evaporated.

There are several problems with Barisan Nasional’s excuses for this week’s fuel price hike. These are typical for its ‘act first, deal with the problems later’ approach:

1. Shifting to more targeted assistance for the poor

If the motivation to help those who earn below RM3,000 is genuine, then why make them suffer higher prices for goods and fuel in the months between now and when Bantuan Rakyat 1Malaysia (BR1M) x.0 is implemented?

Going by past performance, there is typically a lead-in time of about one to three months between tabling a budget and the distribution of BR1M handouts. How will the poor deal in the interim?

Furthermore, BR1M handouts are occasional ad hoc affairs, whereas fuel consumption is an ongoing daily expenditure for the rakyat. BR1M is not a solution for those experiencing an uncomfortably high cost of living from increased fuel prices. We also should remember that many Malaysians are out of pocket following Hari Raya festivities.

If we take the generous assumption that ad hoc cash handouts are a sustainable remedy for chronically low incomes, the gentlest approach for the rakyat would be to only reduce the fuel subsidy after the cash handout is applied. But this would still leave people deprived until the next round of handouts is approved.

Deputy Finance Minister Ahmad Maslan admitted as much in July when he said that, “With the [projected] BR1M increase to RM1,200 [from RM500] this will help cover household expenses for two months. The people will need to find their own means for the remaining 10 months.”

Perennial dependency on cash handouts will not reduce the subsidy bill. Najib spent RM2.9 billion of public money on BR1M 2.0. With the promised increases the BR1M bill will increase to RM6.96 billion. This RM4 billion increase in BR1M will more than cancel out the estimated RM1.1 billion the government expects to save from rolling back fuel subsidies.

Thus, the net result of the BN’s actions will be to increase both inflation and the subsidy bill.

2. Middle-class will feel effects of inflation, too

BN already recognises something needs to be done to alleviate the inflationary impact for the middle-classes. This group has had to deal with fairly stagnant wages for over a decade. Housing and food prices have been rising in the last few years so the 10% increase in fuel price will be a squeeze on their absolute consumption. Despite the government’s warning to traders to not raise their prices by more than 1%, it is likely that an inflated cost will be passed through to consumers. Rather than increasing prices by 1 or 2 sen, traders may go for a tenfold increase in the order of 10 to 20 sen as they have done in the past.

3. Reducing subsidies may be a reasonable means to reduce the budget deficit, but should it be the first measure?

Wastage and corruption should be cut first and income-boosting policies should take effect before subsidies on essential goods should be open to reconsideration.

A good part of our budget deficits incurred over the last few years can be attributed to covert and overt election spending by Najib. BR1M and advertising spending by the Prime Minister’s department alone account for over 21% of our 2013 fiscal deficit of RM14.9 billion. Now that Najib has won his first elected term why should these expenditures be maintained?

Analysts who comment on the need for the government to improve its tax base generally avoid commenting on how well and how accountably the government spends its present tax income. It must be recognised that our deficit, and its attendant debt burden, are subsidising governmental corruption.

Just as we should not have a knee-jerk subsidy mentality, we must also avoid an approach of fiscal austerity that shortchanges the 38.5% of Malaysian households that earn below RM3,000 per month.

A better approach to promote would be to correct the principles and sequencing of fiscal reforms:

1. Standard of living of the rakyat should take priority;

2. Public spending should be cost-effective and development effective;

3. Give before you take away. Targeted subsidies should be implemented before a poorly performing universal subsidy is taken away.

An analogous example would be with public transport. Ideally, a public transport network should be functional, up and running before implementing a congestion charge or other disincentive for private car usage.

We are in need of policies that will increase Malaysian incomes rather than deplete them.

In countries with high median incomes a goods and services tax (GST) may be an efficient way to collect taxes. However, in countries with low median incomes such as Malaysia, implementing GST would be a regressive measure and unfairly burden the poor.

Tax revenue is ultimately a function of the overall dynamism of the national economy. The Malaysian government is still obliged to implement policies that will promote industrial expansion, productivity, rising incomes, fair wage bargaining, and equitable distribution.

If the rakyat feel the dividends of such policies any rollback in subsidies will hurt less. Yet, with the lack of economic innovation coming from the Najib Administration, the rakyat may have to wait until after the next elections for the tide that will float all boats.


Petaling Jaya

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13 Sep 2013 2.16pm

First, many are syiok by Naj1b’s plan to lower car price.
Then they are given a reality jolt with the fuel hike.
So car ownership remains a very costly affair.
A classic case of ‘Baik Punya Cilok’ by Naj1b who has fooled the rakyat.

11 Sep 2013 9.19pm

If it were EVEN a semblance of actual fiscal reform, they would have raised the fuel price when growth was high rather than when growth is slowing down. The fact is its about running out of money to pay for UMNO/BN corruption and crony politics. If subsidy is corrupting, why is UMNO/BN entitled to their corruption if the average Malaysian has to forgo their little share? Why is UMNO/BN corruption even more superior than those of the rest of us? The fact is subsidies are social welfare that may or may not be needed and nothing even close to UMNO/BN’s… Read more »

8 Sep 2013 6.53pm

SPAD said Expres Bas can continue to impose 10% surcharge until price hike is confirmed.
SPAD might as well said price hike now 10%, more to come later?

Don Anamalai
Don Anamalai
10 Sep 2013 12.31pm
Reply to  hamtaro

SPAD prohibited fee hike in Bas Sekolah.

But can SPAD do the same to Pan-Malaysia Lorry Owners Association that is demanding 15% increase in transportation charges for their lorries?

Danny Kua
Danny Kua
11 Sep 2013 8.22am
Reply to  Don Anamalai

Lorries transportation price to increase by 15%.

These are lorries that carry the vegetables, the chickens, the coffee beans etc.

Don’t be surprised you better don’t ask for kau kau kopi o as they may charge you more now. May be kopi o tak kau kau can remain the same price not kau kau.

8 Sep 2013 10.59am

We should remember that PM Najib assured rakyat in February before GE13 that the price of RON95 would be sustained in spite of the rise in global oil prices. Look what has happened now?

Janji ditepati? Cakap kosong?
Rakyat kena waspada!

Wee Chin
Wee Chin
9 Sep 2013 11.34am
Reply to  McMinion

Guang Ming Daily on its front page headline today indicated that a bowl of noodle in PJ has gone up 50 sen (RM4.50 to RM5). The multiplier effect is happening fast, hawkers already going to increase food price by 10%..


6 Sep 2013 9.37pm

The PM’s dept budget is around RM14-17 billions p.a. (can’t remember exact figure). I recalled reading DPM’s residence in Putrajaya electricity bill p.m. is RM50k +/-. You know these politicians fr bn live like dukes. Why does the PM dept need so much money? As at 1st qtr of 2013, govt’s debt is RM548bil. Any idea how the loan is serviced? Got pay interest or not? If not, it wl be added to the principal debt & pay compounded on p & i …. anyway it’s shocking. I think we are in very deep s…

7 Sep 2013 11.29am
Reply to  loner6999

Do not judge them by their wages and allowances. These politicians have ‘insider’s information’ due to their knowledge of the incoming policies that have impact on certain stocks in the KLSE stock market. They can buy low an sell high via contra transaction to get rich instantly. Now you know why any minister can easily forgo 10% of their pay (symbolic pay cut) to gain publicity.

6 Sep 2013 4.36pm

Why don’t we get straight to the point – the removal of subsidies and having GST is FOR CONTINUING CORRUPTION IN UMNO/BN.. Period. You accept it you accept corruption. Full Stop.

Pak Tim
Pak Tim
7 Sep 2013 9.36am
Reply to  bigjoe99

You mean if the Rakyat support it, the Rakyat support corruption? Maybe this is the culture of Malaysia. Otherwise, why would a large portion of the Rakyat still vote for corruption? Our neighbors like Indonesia and Thailand are improving but we are regressing.

Cumi Ciki
Cumi Ciki
6 Sep 2013 1.07pm

Perkasa suggested that cutting the salaries of the top civil servants from 5 to 10% would ease the burden of our people? Ibrahim Ali should have requested that the number of civil servants (now about 1.2 million) be reduced by 10% as many are redundant deadwood. Why did he not ask about stopping leakages, corruption, extravagance, over pricing of projects for the benefit of cronies, proxies, families, nepotism, transparency etc etc which are big drain on public funds, that too would have made some difference to our people. But then what to expect from Ibrahim Ali?

6 Sep 2013 11.10am

What does … UMNO care. They just want to fill up their pocket after all the spending.

7 Sep 2013 12.38pm
Reply to  Yang

As a result of piratisation in the name of privatisation, rakyat has to pay lots of tolls to make toll operators rich, pay high electricity charges to make IPPs rich. Meanwhile, the government uses tax money to compensate everybody from toll operators who already make huge profits, to contractors of a crooked bridge that was never built, collapsed stadium, poorly arranged projects like PKFZ, non-viable ones like Perwaja and Proton.,,