KUALA LUMPUR, Jan 5 (Bernama) -- Malaysian consumers must be prepared to face greater challenges in 2010 as the government prepares to restructure the subsidy scheme on several items.
The Chief Executive Officer of the Federation of Malaysian Consumers Associations (Fomca) Mohd Yusof Abd Rahman noted that probably by May only those who qualify can buy fuel at subsidised prices using their Mykad and the rest have to bear the actual market price.
Mohd Yusof pointed out that the new sugar price of RM1.65 per kilogramme in Peninsula and RM1.75 sen in Sabah and Sarawak, an increase of 20 sen, along with a minimum price of RM6.40 for a 20-stick cigarette pack is set to stress the household budget.
Thus it is only wise that Malaysians act prudently in their consumption to keep their expense in check.
SUBSIDIES FAILED TO ACHIEVE THEIR GOALS
Mohd Yusof told Bernama that Fomca is agreeable to the rise in sugar price based on two reasons, firstly the sugar subsidy bill is ever increasing and secondly the subsidy benefited those beyond the target group.
"The government has allocated about RM720 million to subsidise sugar in 2009 to keep the prices at RM1.45 per kilogramme and to maintain this price in 2010 the government needs to fork out RM1.2 billion.
"Thus, for this year, the price of sugar had to be increased by 20 sen to maintain the subsidy at RM720 million," explained Mohd Yusof.
Furthermore, the subsidy mechanism is questionable as it failed to reach its goals.
The subsidy, notes Mohd Yusof, is to help the low and medium income group to buy the commodity at a reasonable price.
However, currently, the subsidy is also enjoyed by the rich and foreigners residing in the country.
"Thus, Fomca is of the view that the government has to cut down on the subsidy in stages before it is completely eliminated.
"To help the target groups buy the basic necessities at reasonable prices, there has to be a new mechanism like the one being contemplated by the government including through the use of Mykad," said Mohd Yusof.
He added that, currently, such mechanism is already in place for the 'super spesial tempatan' (SST) rice through the Rice Subsidy Programme for the People (Subur), those who qualify are given vouchers to purchase the SST 15 price at subsidised prices.
Mohd Yusof pointed out that cheap sugar has encouraged Malaysians to consume sugar in excess.
Due to excess intake of sugar, Malaysia has an unenviable record as the nation with highest number of diabetics in Asia.
According to statistics, in 2007 there were 800,000 diabetics in Malaysia, the fourth highest in Asia, and the number is expected to swell to 1.3 million this year.
"Therefore, with the rise in sugar prices, Fomca hopes that Malaysians will reduce sugar intake. The only thing that we fear is that kuih sellers and eateries will hike the prices of their offerings.
"This calls for enforcement and further steps to be taken by the government. It may be a bit difficult on the enforcement part because the nation lacks laws to control profiteering," explained Mohd Yusof.
He was of the opinion that traders could absorb the increase by reducing the amount of sugar in their products.
"Moreover, even now the kuih and drinks are too sweet," he said.
MINIMUM PRICE OF CIGARETTES WELCOMED
On the move to set a minimum price for a pack of cigarette, Mohd Yusof said Fomca views the move positively and believes the minimum price could stop students and teenagers from buying cigarettes.
With a minimum price, cigarette companies will no longer be able to give discounts or hold promotions that distribute cigarettes for free.
Cigarette companies all this while have been conducting aggressive marketing campaigns to win over new smokers and maintain hardcore smokers.
"They offered discounts and promotions that even offered free cigarettes to teens on certain occasions. The promotions go against the government's effort to reduce the number of smokers in Malaysia," he said.
THE PRICE SHOULD BE HIGHER
Nevertheless, Mohd Yusof is skeptical whether the minimum price set for cigarettes is enough to deter smokers.
This is because there are many who feel that the price is still low and should be increased to RM1 per stick.
"This means a pack of 20 sticks will cost RM20 and only those who can afford can buy it. Such high price will put cigarette beyond the reach of students and teens," he said.
Apart from the minimum price, Mohd Yusof wants the government to seriously enforce the no smoking zone as at present the enforcement for such zones is lacking.
Mohd Yusof suggested integrated enforcement involving all parties to be enhanced on for smoking zones.
Enforcement officers from various agencies must be given adequate powers to take action against those smoking at no smoking zones.
CONTROL FAST FOOD
Fomca also welcomed the Health Ministry's move to regulate the marketing and promotional activities for fast food in line with the efforts to educate the public on healthy eating.
"The government must introduce regulation in stages to compel fast food restaurants in the country to reduce the sugar, salt and fat content in their food.
"This is important to ensure that the fast food restaurants serve nutritious food only. Fast food restaurants must improvise their menu to serve meals that is suitable for Malaysians," explained Mohd Yusof.
He also suggested that education and awareness on healthy living through healthy eating be continued.
Schools, he said, have an important role in prohibiting the sales of junk food not only in the canteens but also within the schools' vicinity.
The parents too have a role here as they are the ones who should inculcate healthy eating habits for their children.
On the consumer's role for the environment, they have to view seriously global warming that is set to impact everyone living on earth. Fomca, noted Mohd Yusof, would emphasize on global warming in its activities throughout 2010.
As another attempt to help consumers obtain the latest information on Fomca's views relating to consumerism, the consumer body is set to launch the "Konsumerkini" portal.
Fomca, according to Mohd Yusof, at present depends on the print and electronic media to express its views over current consumer issues.
"Often what is published by the media is incomplete and fails to reflect Fomca's emphasis on related matters.
"Some of the views are solicited through telephone and the reply is given spontaneously, and this why the published articles fail to give the complete picture," he explained.
Therefore, noted Mohd Yusof, the KonsumerKini portal is to provide Fomca's stand and views on consumer issues.
Telah terlibat dalam pergerakan kepenggunaan semenjak tahun 1992. Merupakan Bendahari Agung FOMCA semenjak tahun 1998 dan Presiden Persatuan Pengguna Selangor dan Wilayah Persekutuan semenjak tahun 2002.