DATUK Seri Ismail Sabri Yaakob has found himself neck deep in trouble with his public outburst against unscrupulous Chinese business folk who refused to revise downwards the prices of their goods and services despite the drop in fuel prices.
The Facebook posting by the Minister of Agriculture and Agro-based Industries three days ago had earned him well-rounded criticisms from all quarters, including Barisan Nasional politicians – and the pressure has resulted in the police wanting a “date” with him.
The minister is definitely wrong to single out only the Chinese traders.
His public show of frustration is tantamount to a huge public relations disaster.
He should have been more “diplomatic” with his choice of words and refrain from criticising any particular race of traders.
After all, unscrupulous traders come in all shapes and sizes and from all races.
Nonetheless, I personally feel that his outburst is understandable.
It is a show of frustration, and it is also a reflection of the realities that we are facing in the country.
The harsh reality is that the Federal Government is powerless to curb the unreasonable price hikes in many sectors of the business world, that is very clear for all to see.
That is the situation that we find ourselves in today, after the fuel price hikes during the past few years.
During the past few years, the business people had been laughing all the way to the bank, day in and day out, as they capitalise on whatever increase in fuel price hikes to up the prices of their goods, food and services.
Now, despite the prices of fuel dropping every month, business people still refuse to follow suit to reduce the prices they charge.
Did Ismail actually expect these business folk to be like obedient children?
That when the government telsl them to reduce their prices, these business folk will obey willingly?
It is common knowledge that the majority of those in the business world are out for profit.
The more profit the better it is for them. Their main concern is profit, that is the bottomline.
Very rarely do we find traders who are civic-minded, who are genuinely concerned about the welfare and rights of consumers.
The majority of traders are only concerned about maximising their profit margin.
Their goal is to make sure the more they can earn at the shortest possible time – that is their mentality.
That situation is none more obvious than in Miri City – Sarawak’s border city with oil-rich Brunei.
True to their “vulture-like nature”, unscrupulous coffeeshop proprietors had been capitalising on the fuel price hikes starting three years ago.
When there was a sudden 20-sen hike in the price of RON97 petrol in 2012, many Miri coffeeshop people also imposed unreasonable hikes in the prices of drinks and food sold to members of the public.
This blatant and rather dishonest manner of taking advantage of any price increase in fuel is a norm in Miri – even though the government had said the increase in the hike of the petrol would not result in any unreasonable increase in prices of consumer items.
I often go around Miri City to do ground checks and I have found unscrupulous coffeeshop operators literally behaving like blood-thirsty vultures, swooping in on their prey after detecting the slightest opportunity.
The Ministry of Domestic Trade, Consumerism and Cooperatives Affair is powerless to step in when it comes to non-controlled items and the list of non-control items includes drinks and food sold in coffeeshop and restaurants.
Also not under the list of controlled items are services, like repair of vehicles, transportation charges on public commercial vehicles, the services at hair saloons, tailors, furniture shops and the like.
Eateries runned by the private sectors are governed by an association.
However, even the association is powerless to act against any of its errant members because there is no set of guidelines that governs the prices of drinks and prepared food.
“The only way for the public to make their feelings known is to boycott those eateries that have taken advantage of the latest fuel hike to up the prices of their food and drinks.
“This consumer-rights movement is still weak in Miri. Consumers are still not actively involved in protecting and defending their rights against dishonest traders,” this is what many government senior officers had told me.
Miri has always been notorious for unreasonable price hikes and exhorbitant costs of living.
The business people here have traditionally set high prices to fleece visitors from oil-rich Brunei who crossed into Miri to shop, eat and entertain.
In the process, they also caused a lot of hardship for locals in Miri whose wages are not as high as their visitors.
Aside from food and drinks, the goods that are sold at unreasonably high prices here include vehicle spare parts and accessories.
Mechanics also fleece vehicle owners like there is no tomorrow.
Only the Dayak traders are honest, it seems.
I have found that prices of fresh vegetables and fruits sold by the native traders at the Miri Tamu Muhibbah remain low.
It seems that the Dayak traders are more honourable and will not simply take advantage of any fuel price hike.
The Chinese-managed shops are the ones that usually blatantly impose price hikes most of the time – that is a fact.
Ismail may have committed a “public relations tragedy” when he lashed out at the unscrupulous Chinese traders, but there is no denying there are some elements of truth in his ranting.