Voters want new government to focus on economic, cost of living issues
KUALA LUMPUR,. Noor Azuki Fahme Ismail only has one wish for the upcoming general election – the voting in of a government that can address the rising cost of living effectively.
The 34-year-old public-sector employee has a monthly household income of RM5,200, which places him in the M40 medium-income category. His family may be small – he and his wife have a child who is seven months old – but they lead a hand-to-mouth existence as they can barely cope with the expenses of living in the city.
“Prior to the Covid-19 pandemic, I would spend about RM400 a month on essentials including milk for the baby, but now the same things cost me RM600… and then there are the housing and car loans as well as childcare payments to take care of,” he lamented.
The escalating living costs have forced him to get a part-time job as well while his wife returned to work some months back despite having to worry about leaving their young child at a childcare centre, he told Bernama.
Noor Azuki Fahme’s grievances are similar to that of millions of people in the B40 and M40 groups who struggle to make ends meet – this is especially true for those living in urban areas. Their plight is supported by the findings of a recent study carried out by five media organisations – Sinar Harian, Astro Awani, The Star, Sin Chew Daily and Malaysia Nanban – in collaboration with three research firms Ilham Centre, 02 Research Malaysia and Huayan Policy Institute Centre for Malaysia Chinese Studies.
According to their survey, carried out from June to Oct 9 this year, some of the pressing issues that need to be addressed by the nation’s leaders include those related to the cost of living and prices of goods, economic recovery, education and political stability.
The government voted into power after the 15th general election (GE15) will have to be ready to face several challenges what with the World Bank projecting a global recession next year and economists predicting that the inflation rate, which is among the causes of the hike in the prices of goods and services, will keep going up.
Universiti Putra Malaysia School of Business and Economics senior lecturer Associate Prof Ts Dr Anuar Shah Bali Mahomed said although Malaysia’s inflation rate is now at 4.4 per cent compared with 4.7 per cent in August, it is, however, likely to trend upward again in the near future based on current developments.
“One of the reasons for the potential increase in inflation is our nation’s dependence on imported goods, especially food. Our imports reached RM63 billion (in 2021) and may soar to RM70 billion in 2022.
“As long as we continue to rely on imported goods, we won’t be able to resolve the increase in the prices of goods, hence our people will continue to be burdened by the high cost of purchasing daily essentials,” he told Bernama, adding that the depreciating value of the ringgit against the US dollar has worsened the situation.
He also said that the increases in the Overnight Policy Rate (OPR) have also had an impact on people who have taken loans from banking institutions as their monthly loan repayments have gone up.
This year the OPR was revised twice by Bank Negara Malaysia (BNM) in an effort to strengthen the nation’s financial position and drive its economy.
“So now those who have taken loans have to pay a higher interest rate, which has affected their household expenditure… as it is, their purchasing power has already been affected by the rising cost of goods,” he said.
Pointing out that it will take time for the inflation rate to trend downward, Anuar Shah urged the new government set to be formed post-GE15 to take immediate steps to meet the food requirements of the people in the near future.
Such measures should include actively promoting large-scale cultivation of vegetables that can be harvested in less than six months. He said to realise this, the government should lease out its land free of charge for two years to youths who are interested in agricultural pursuits.
“An effort like this can help to meet the food needs of the people in the event an unexpected crisis occurs in the future,” he said.
He also suggested that the government empower cooperative entities which, he said, can potentially control the increase in food prices.
Pointing to the Kedai Rakyat 1Malaysia (KR1M) concept, Anuar Shah said it can be rebranded and expanded with the involvement of cooperatives, thus enabling it to offer a wider range of groceries at affordable prices.
“The government can help by providing an allocation and special incentives and reintroducing KR1M as convenience or grocery stores that are managed by integrated cooperatives. The only thing is, these stores must be made easily accessible to the people,” he said.
He also suggested that the newly-elected government implement targeted subsidy programmes for the B40 and M40 groups using the e-cash or e-wallet approach, with the money only being allowed to be used for the purchase of daily essentials as well as payment of utility bills and purchase of RON95 petrol, diesel and LPG gas.
Besides the rising cost of living, the still high unemployment rate is also a matter of concern notably among new graduates.
Food caterer Ammar Hasbullah sees the increasing trend of university leavers’ involvement in the gig economy as something that is unsuitable in the long term.
“The gig economy, to me, is a temporary solution because this field doesn’t provide a secure future as the workers are not covered by insurance (health), EPF (Employees Provident Fund) and Socso (Social Security Organisation).
“Hence, the new government must find an effective way to deal with the huge number of graduates joining the job market and those working in the gig economy,” he said.
According to media reports, Malaysia’s unemployment rate as of July 2022 was 3.7 percent compared with 4.5 percent in the same period last year and 4.2 per cent in January this year.
Even though the unemployment rate has improved, the issue is still worrying, more so in view of the latest data showing that the employability rate of graduates had only registered a slight increase recently.
According to the Ministry of Higher Education’s data for 2018-2021, the employability rate for graduates in 2021 went up by only 1.1 per cent to 85.5 per cent from 84.4 per cent in 2020. In 2019, before the pandemic struck, the employability rate was 86.2 per cent.
Expand business opportunities
Meanwhile, political observer Prof Dr Ahmad Martadha Mohamed said the unemployment issue must be addressed immediately considering that institutions of higher learning are producing thousands of graduates every year.
Ahmad Martadha, who heads the Governance and Integrity Cluster at Universiti Utara Malaysia’s Council of Professors, said efforts taken previously to deal with the influx of unemployed graduates have not been sufficient.
He said the government should consider offering initiatives such as loans to unemployed graduates to encourage them to set up their own businesses or go into livestock farming or agriculture.
“To encourage them to participate in the agrofood sector, the government can provide them with young goats or cows that they can rear. As for those interested in agriculture, they should be encouraged to go into oil palm, chilli and durian cultivation,” he said.
Ahmad Martadha also advised political parties not to fish for votes by making unrealistic pledges in their manifestos.
“For example, (promising) to reduce petrol prices is unrealistic because many things need to be looked into in order to implement it. These will include increasing petrol subsidies which will have a negative impact on the nation’s finances.
“So, parties must ensure their manifestos are concrete and have problem-solving measures that can be implemented immediately,” he said. – Bernama