Right move, wrong target

  • Letters
  • Tuesday, 03 Jun 2008

The recent announcement on the petrol sale ban on foreign-registered cars at stations borderingneighbouring countries is good news to many but it also ruffled up quite a few feathers. The move wassupposed to address the fuel subsidy issue but it ended up sparking debate on its fairness and workability.

WHEN Domestic Trade and Consumer Affairs Minister Datuk Shahrir Samad first made the announcement last week that petrol stations along the country’s borders would be barred from selling petrol to foreign registered cars, it caught everyone by surprise.

The move has caused unhappiness among some quarters, especially petrol station dealers, business groups and even motorists.

It was also not an easy task for Shahrir, also the Johor Baru MP, to make such an announcement.

Not when 75% of the 300 over petrol stations affected by the new ruling are located in Johor and when members of the royalty have direct or indirect interests in some of these petrol stations.

The latest news has caused a lot of outcry in Johor similar to when the same ministry under its then minister Datuk Shafie Apdal announced in 2006 that a RM20 levy would be imposed on Singaporean vehicles exiting Malaysia.

The move then was also to defray the petrol and fuel subsidies.

Everything was set including spending money to install gantries and electronic payment equipment similar to the Touch ‘n Go along the Causeway and Second Link.

What happened to the project in the end? Until today, it has yet to be implemented.

Then came the recent rise in oil prices, which caused a lot of problems, especially for the Government, to control its oil subsidies, which is running into billions of ringgit.

The newest announcement last week was a good step towards addressing the oil price rise issue but a detailed research needs to be done as it would have far-reaching consequences.

Unlike Thais who enter the country primarily to top up their empty tanks with subsidised fuel, Singaporeans are known to spend their money especially in the retail, hospitality and property sectors in Johor.

While it is a known fact that the price of petrol is more than double in the island republic, Singaporeans surely make up a small percentage of foreign-registered cars which guzzle up our locally subsidised petrol as most of the their vehicles already leave their country with almost full tanks.

This is because since Feb 1991, the Singapore Government made it mandatory for their citizens and permanent residents to have their fuel tanks three-quarters full before they enter Malaysia or face a hefty fine of S$500 (RM1,150).

So how much of subsidised petrol can Singaporeans pump into their petrol tanks?

What about Malaysians who own Singapore-registered vehicles?

Malaysian High Commissioner to Singapore Datuk N. Parameswaran has pointed out that there are many Malaysians who hold Singapore permanent residence (PR) status but live in Johor and commute to the island daily to work.

Under the PR terms, Malaysians must drive or ride a Singapore-registered vehicle or face a S$300 (RM690) fine if they fail to comply.

So would not this ruling in some way put Singaporeans off from driving to Johor especially with the worry of running out of petrol constantly lingering in their minds during peak hours or holidays when the causeway is congested?

What about Singaporeans who have invested in Iskandar Malaysia especially in upmarket residential areas like Ledang Heights and Leisure Farm which is way before the 50km radius?

Will they have to pay hefty tolls at the Second Link just to return to Singapore to fill up their tanks?

This ruling will result in more fuel smuggling as locals might try to cash in by driving around with jerry-cans of subsidised fuel in their car boots along with portable pumps trying to offer help to stalled foreign-registered cars.

Another aspect of the new ruling will be about enforcement.

In Johor alone there are over 230 petrol stations, which fall within the 50km radius but it is learnt that the state domestic trade and consumer affairs department only has fewer than 60 enforcement officers.

So how will they be able to enforce the regulations effectively?

The Government should consider having special counters or colour coded pumps for foreign-registered vehicles to purchase petrol at market price at stations along the border.

Locals with Singapore-registered vehicles should also be allowed to use their MyKads to purchase subsidised fuel at these special pumps.

More stringent checks must be conducted especially in the north to curb smuggling and the authorities should also come up with a proper mechanism to prevent fishermen from selling their subsidised diesel for a quick buck.

While it is commendable that the Government is doing something to address the fuel subsidy problem, effort must be made to ensure its policies are followed through so that Malaysia is not regarded as a country with “flip flop” policies similar to the announcement made on the RM20 levy.

At the end of the day, much of Johor’s economy is still heavily dependent on Singaporeans and it is in our interest to ensure they keep on returning to the country whether to eat, shop or even spend a bit on fuel.

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