‘Ensure affordable food for all’

PETALING JAYA: With most Malaysians citing the cost of living and high prices of goods as their prime concerns, the new government’s immediate task is to tackle food prices and improve our food security, say consumer groups.

Federation of Malaysian Consumers Associations (Fomca) secretary-general and chief executive officer Datuk Paul Selva Raj said that while most consumers are feeling the burden, those in the lower income bracket are the worst off.

“Price increases impact the low-income group in particular, as a greater portion of their income is spent on food,” he said when contacted yesterday.

“Food security should be a major priority in the new economy to ensure affordable food for all.

“After years of under-investment in food crops, resulting in excessive dependence on imported food, the government should make agricultural production a priority,” he added.

While the supply chain should be liberalised to ensure open competition at all levels, monopolistic practices and price manipulation must stop as they result in excessive prices, Paul said.

To encourage agriculture and ensure farmers get a decent income, better support in research and development is also crucial, as well as in attracting the next generation, he added.

Another area of concern that warrants immediate attention from the newly-appointed Cabinet is healthcare, which has been overburdened, Paul said.

“Patients have to wait a long time to get treatment and access to specialists.

“The government should increase healthcare expenditure to at least 5% of GDP (gross domestic product). The present healthcare system needs to be upgraded, with attention given to maintaining medical professionals and specialists in the public sector.

“This, along with improvement in hardware such as building new hospitals and upgrading present facilities and medical equipment, will improve healthcare efficiency,” he added.

Paul said a well-connected and reliable public transport system would also aid in transporting and connecting people, subsequently improving economic development.

“We need to increase public transport services with more vehicles, make the service more comfortable, convenient and reliable, provide incentives to use public transport and also focus on transit-oriented development such as well-lit walkways and corridors.”

To face these challenging times, he said, it was vital that consumers are empowered with knowledge, attitude and skills to protect themselves.

“We hope the new government will be committed to empowering consumers through extensive, nationwide, evidence-based consumer and financial education,” he added.

Ahmad Yazid Othman, a member of the National Cost of Living Council (Nacol) and Fellow of the Malay Economic Action Council, agreed that the increase in the price of goods was the main concern of the people.

He is looking forward to seeing what the new government does differently from the previous one in tackling these issues.

“I hope it will have the courage to go against the norm and consider something more radical, such as pegging the ringgit in a way that can help us survive the coming year, especially the first half, which is expected to be very challenging.

“The government can also provide a moratorium for small and medium enterprises (SMEs), as their cash flows is mostly affected by banks’ decisions.”

Ahmad Yazid said the easiest method was to provide cash transfers to the bottom 50% of the rakyat.

“That will really help and reduce the overall subsidy for everyone,” he said, adding that the government could consider imposing fuel taxes based on the type of cars owned instead of a blanket subsidy.

He added that the rising cost of living could not be solved as quickly as we want because it is a structural issue.

“We are unable to ensure we have supplies of goods available at affordable prices because some of the products and services are dominated by a few limited groups of people that basically promote elements of monopoly.

“That does not help the rakyat in particular,” he said, adding that the recent increase in the overnight policy rate (OPR) to curb inflation had also created more hardship for the people.

Ahmad Yazid called on the new government to avoid working in silos but come out with constructive joint policies that will really help the people and businesses.

“They should relook all roles and methods, and aspirations of all ministries and agencies, including the banks, and consider merging some of their functions so that they have the right impact and narrative aligned with the ‘prosperity for all’ concept,” he said.

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