Giving consumers cheaper alternatives, genuinely


A customer is stuffing her vegetables into a cotton bag to replace the rolls of plastic packaging at the Village Grocer, Subang Parade, recently.

MY FAVOURITE personal moments in life now seem to be confined within the timeline of 10pm till 3am. Sitting on my balcony chair and having a slow smoking cigar, I have the luxury of time and the quiet of the night to reflect on the happenings of the day and to gather my thoughts on my plans for tomorrow. I write best during these hours, free of interference especially on the need of having a conversation with my wife.

When one has too much free time, the mind wanders freely, picking up on the random issues in life to gripe about, be it daily happenings that affects your life or politics that affects the economy.

The key question on my mind is always about the motive behind the actions and the motivation that drives such actions.

My gripe today is about plastic bags. Yes, it is about the availability of plastic bags to place my purchases when I shop at my favorite supermarket in Bangsar. Earlier this month, this supermarket completely stopped making available plastic bags at the checkout counter in their campaign to save the planet.

When the government made the decision some years back to force consumers to pay 20 cents for a plastic bag (which costs a few cents), supermarkets all over the country rejoiced at the prospect of turning cost into profits besides saving the planet as well. My favorite supermarket introduced recyclable bags which was a great campaign as I see many shoppers especially housewives bringing these bags on their shopping trips.

As I am not a househusband, I would normally go straight to the supermarket from my office to pick up some groceries without any recyclable bags. Consumers are now familiar with the question from the checkout counter cashier: “Do you want to use a plastic bag?” I would normally be glad to pay for the five to 10 plastic bags which incidentally are recycled at home, used in the many small garbage bin receptacles in my house.

In this instance two weeks ago, I was faced with the dilemma of not having the choice of buying plastic bags as the supermarket made the decision to force consumers to use recyclable bags if they want to shop at their supermarket. The cashier pointed out to me the availability of five different designs and sizes of recyclable bags next to her checkout counter, which costs between RM3.80 to RM19.90 per bag.

Being a griping old man and a regular customer to boot, I stood my ground and insisted they provide me with a proper means of carriage for my RM700 worth of vegetables, meat and bottled plastic drinks. They scrambled and found three used cartons from their back room as I was holding up the queue. I had to apologise to the mother and son waiting behind me who incidentally were not aware of this new policy and did not bring any recyclable bags too.

This incident begs the question on the real motives behind the management decision to implement a ‘no plastic bag’ policy in a supermarket. If it is to save the planet, then the consumers should be offered a cheaper alternative (like brown paper bags) to the high priced recyclable bags. Instead, consumers are given fewer choices and at a much higher price too. If their motive is genuine, sell the recyclable bags at a loss or at cost and consider it as a CSR project.

This smacks of profiteering in the name of saving the planet. It looks as if the profit from selling the plastic bags is insufficient to cover their bonuses. I have shopped in Tesco and Sainsbury in London and I had the choice of paying 20 pence for a much sturdier plastic bag. Consumers should not be inconvenienced when they shop at retail stores. Customer service 101. Duh.

It seems I am not the only one griping about motives. In a press conference a few days ago by Industries Unite, which is a coalition of 110 trade associations with 3.3 million business owners, they were griping about the motives behind the recently announced RM10,000 and RM50,000 fine for violation of the SOP guidelines on wearing masks and social distancing.

With a genuine motive of preventing the spread of Covid-19, the government banned inter state travel and implemented tight guidelines on social distancing and family gatherings especially during Chinese New Year. Permission was given to celebrate reunion dinners for family members who stay in the same house. I scratched my head at that one. What next? Seek permission to use the toilet in my house? This is taking the ‘big brother’ watching over you a wee bit teeny too far, I must say.

Anyway, Industries Unite demanded some answers from the government. They questioned the motive behind the high fines set by the government, which is detrimental to business owners who are already suffering from poor business over the past 12 months. Poor communication and poor planning has led to haphazard implementation by enforcement agencies.

They question the legality of the fines, the interpretation of the SOP guidelines by various state agencies and PDRM, and the flawed design of the SOP’s without consulting the business community. This high handed approach is detrimental to the revival of the economy.

Beside the fines, other government agencies like HRDF have asked for increased contribution from the business community despite the fact that most companies are already in ICU fighting for survival. It is tantamount to extracting blood from a dengue patient with a dangerously low blood count of four.

There seems to be a disconnect between the government of the day and the civil service with the business community in the current prevailing state of the failing economy. The government and civil servants tend to forget that their operating expenditure comes from income taxes derived from employment of individuals and corporate profits.

Instead of giving a helping hand to the fallen, they are adding additional cuts and wounds besides the occasional punches and kicks to the businessmen lying on sick beds. Other than ego and sense of power, I failed to understand the real motive behind such flawed decisions.

Get well soon everyone.Tan Thiam Hock is an entrepreneur. Views expressed here are the writer’s own.

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