PEOPLE in Sarawak and Sabah are disappointed that Budget 2019 will see targeted fuel subsidies being introduced.
Many of the three million strong Sarawak population and four million Sabahans will suffer the most from the decision.
It was announced that only motorcycles below 125cc and cars below 1,500cc will be allowed to buy a certain amount of fuel at subsidised prices in petrol stations.
Stopping fully subsidised fuel for vehicles above 1500cc is not practical in these two states because the rural population has no choice but to travel using bigger engine capacity vehicles.
Roads here are not well-built like in the peninsula. Here, they are made of gravel and mud and traverse through thousands of kilometres of rugged jungle, hills and mountains. Cars below 1500cc cannot ply these roads.
If Putrajaya implements the new fuel subsidy scheme without taking this into account, natives who depend on hired vehicles to travel in the interior will have to pay much more.
As it is now, rural folk staying in places like Lio Mato deep in Baram have to fork out RM500 per person just to come to Miri using a hired four-wheel drive.
“This will hurt a lot of Sarawakians who own vehicles of 2,500cc that are needed for rural travel.
“Limiting subsidised fuel to vehicles with smaller engines is simply not practical.
“In Sarawak and Sabah, residents have to travel over vast distances on rugged terrain.
“That is why we need to use four-wheel drives.
“We object to any subsidy review,” said Mulu assemblyman Datuk Gerawat Jala.
Rurum Kelabit Miri chairman Dick Bala also voiced similar concerns.
“Rural folk will be hit hard by this decision,” he said.
Finance Minister Lim Guan Eng had said the fuel subsidy scheme implemented by the former Barisan Nasional Government will be replaced with a new scheme where only targeted groups can buy subsidised fuel at petrol stations.
He said these include motorcycle and car owners with low-engine capacities.
The move is necessary and will save billions, he said when tabling the Budget.
The fuel subsidy scheme implemented by the former administration had stabilised the price of fuel in rural Sarawak.
Sarawak was given fuel subsidies to bring down the price of essential items in rural settlements.
Sarawak is the largest state in the country and the biggest contributor in terms of income. As such, the new Federal Government should continue beneficial projects in the state.
In the previous Budget, the Barisan Federal Government had given Sarawak the biggest portion of the total allocation meant for standardising the prices of essential goods in the rural districts.
Out of the RM 210mil that Putrajaya spent nationwide in 2017 for the price standardisation programme, Sarawak was allotted RM109mil.
The move was aimed at making sure rural folk enjoy the same prices as those living in urban centres.
The money was used to hire 116 transport companies throughout Sarawak to deliver essential goods to 788 rural outposts.
Sarawak got the biggest amount because of the size of the state and its geographical complexities.
The roads and other infrastructure here are still lacking and Sarawak has more than 5,000 rural settlements.
The new subsidy scheme is simply not practical for Sarawak and Sabah and should not be implemented here.