Hornbill Unleashed

January 19, 2014

Too bad, no New Year cheer for Borneo folks

Filed under: Human rights,Politics — Hornbill Unleashed @ 12:00 AM
Tags: , , ,

Joe Leong

In keeping with age-old tradition, residents of Kota Kinabalu, the capital city of Sabah, would head for the beach at Tanjung Aru to take a dip in the evening of New Year’s Eve before midnight.

There are many beliefs attached to this die-hard habit. Most say it is to ‘buang sial’ or get rid of bad luck. Others say it is just to wash away the dirt of the old year, hoping for a cleaner and better year ahead.

Others on dry ground would watch the fireworks at city centre that are supposed to bring cheer for the New Year.

But the moment KK City dwellers start their routines in the New Year, they began to face the rude shock of price increases all-round.

Car wash operators are charging RM2 extra, same rate of increase by barbers for common folks, and my favourite noodle shop is knocking an extra ringgit from customers (from RM5 to RM6) – all from New Year’s Day.

Happy New Year? Nay.

This hard knock on the pockets has come at the worse time of the year. Parents dread this season when schools re-opened for the year, a time when new uniforms, shoes, bags and countless other items were demanded by school-going kids.

Not to forget that Sabahans as a whole, pay more for goods and services than Malaysians in Peninsular states, largely due to shipping and other transportation costs, as most consumer goods originate from factories and plants located outside the state.

Hence, there is little wonder that you find suppliers and dealers in Sabah openly defy price rise warnings by federal leaders. A case in point is the recent warning by Domestic Trade, Cooperatives and Consumer Affairs Minister Datuk Hasan Malek that action would be taken against stationery suppliers and traders who take advantage of increasing costs to hike up their prices. It has simply fallen on deaf ears.

Stationery and Books Association of Sabah insisted that its move to increase the prices of stationery items by 20 to 30 per cent is reasonable in view of the soaring costs borne by stationery suppliers.

Whatever the argument, what struck me as strange is that the association spokesman cited the implementation of the Goods and Services Tax (GST) as an excuse for the price increases, even when the GST would not be in force until April 2015.

The West Coast School Bus Association in Sabah is another business body that also jumped on the price rise bandwagon by increasing fares from RM10 to RM20 when schools reopened. The association members should have thought of the plight of poor parents who have to rely on school buses purely because they do not have the time or means to provide their own transport.

In Kuching, the situation could be worse as the Union of Sarawak School Bus Associations has applied to the Sarawak Commercial Vehicles Licensing Board (CVLB) to jack up fares by 40 per cent this year. The immediate response from the CVLB is that such an increase would bring “a big financial burden to parents”.

Residents in the Federal Territory of Labuan are also not spared such pain. The Consumer Movement Council there had cautioned people on the island that prices of goods and services would go up in the New Year due to the increase in electricity tariff. The council expects costs of living to surge upwards.

Now that the Lunar Year of the Horse is fast approaching, news is around that prices for mandarin oranges, a must for the season, are going up 30 to 40 per cent.

On hindsight, the government’s announcement on GST one-and-a-half years ahead of actual implementation is a huge mistake that has triggered widespread price increases throughout the nation.

The Ministry of Finance could have just quietly planned for it with the Customs Department and announce it, say in the 2015 Budget in October this year. Instead, the tax measure was made public 18 months in advance. The rakyat, particularly those in the lower-income group, are now paying a dear price for it.

The Sabah state government has moved fast on this issue, deciding and announcing recently its plan to form “a special committee to help deal with the exorbitant price increases and to investigate increase in prices of daily goods”.

On the surface, it looks like a good move. But it is left to be seen whether this new government body could be effective in truly arresting the worsening situation. My view is that there are enough government bodies to deal with the situation without having to set up another “special panel”.

The Domestic Trade, Cooperatives and Consumerism Ministry has its office in both Sabah and Sarawak and its officials should already be on the ground to monitor prices.

Suffering consumers are expecting the government to take stern and prompt actions against errant parties out to take advantage of the public. Relevant laws and regulations are in place; the key question is centred on effectiveness in enforcement by government bodies.

Whilst the government is expected to do its part to clamp down on commercial organisations in unfair price hikes, it is high time that residents in different locations across the Borneo states started forming or activating consumer bodies, which used to be active in the past.

Consumers have a definite part to play in fighting unjust and unfair increases in prices as well as dealing with cases of outright profiteering. They should exercise their right to choose products and services that have the right price tags. A start in people power in consumerism has to be made and what better time than now?

Timely and loud protests in whatever form are healthy and necessary, as long as they are within the confines of the law. On the other hand, silent acceptance is dangerous. It would encourage unscrupulous traders and service providers to up prices at their whims and fancies.

We don’t want to see that happening again and again, do we?

1 Comment »


    Comment by Geronimo Miller — January 21, 2014 @ 5:56 AM | Reply

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