It has been arguably a miserable year on the wallet for many Malaysians who have seen their living costs rise due to the ringgit’s depreciating value caused in part by external economic forces.
With economists saying the grim outlook is likely to continue into the new year, Malay Mail Online asked several groups for their input on what they wish the government to introduce tomorrow’s Budget 2017 that will help ease their financial worries.
We polled consumer groups Federation of Malaysian Consumers Associations (Fomca) and the Malaysian Muslim Consumers’ Association (PPIM), in addition to Congress of Unions of Employees in the Public and Civil Services (Cuepacs), and housing groups Real Estate and Housing Developers Association Malaysia (Rehda) and National House Buyers Association (HBA).
We also talked to Medical Tweet Malaysia (MedTweetMY) a loose coalition of doctors and public health educators, the Malaysian Medical Association (MMA), youth groups UndiMsia and the University of Malaya Association of New Youth (Umany), and the Malaysian Public Transport Users Association (4PAM).
Here are some of what Malaysians wished for in 2017, divided into five themes:
For Budget 2017, developers and house buyers alike wanted the government to make more affordable houses available, with Rehda noting that the model of having other house buyers in a private development project shoulder the cross-subsidisation costs of low-cost units was unsustainable.
“Developers should be relieved from the role of providing low cost housing and the role should be reverted back to the Government through one centralised body with a statutory power to build such houses,” it said, also asking that the low-cost housing quota for private developers be converted to the higher-priced affordable housing that it said was in greater demand.
As for the HBA, its honorary secretary-general Chang Kim Loong said the ban since Budget 2014 on the Developers’ Interest-Bearing Scheme (DIBS) that artificially increases house prices should not be brought back even for first-time buyers, as the prohibition has been effective to stop prices from going up uncontrolled.
Like Rehda which urged utility companies not to impose charges on developers that were bringing them new customers, HBA also highlighted that the high surcharge from such utility companies was bumping up the final property price.
The 10 per cent (at least RM250 million) cut on the Health Ministry’s budget in January’s Budget 2016 revision caused a public uproar. Groups polled by Malay Mail Online have urged for a reversal to the situation.
“The government must consider the increase of Health Ministry’s operating expenditure, apt with the increasing workload,” said MedTweetMY in an emailed statement.
As analyst Mercer Marsh Benefits predicted that medical cost will rise by 17.3 per cent in the country this year, consumer groups have also called for government intervention into the private healthcare sector.
“Government must also regulate private healthcare sector. I think it’s just way beyond affordable now. We need to ensure healthcare is accessible,” said Datuk Paul Selvaraj, secretary-general of Fomca.
The government has committed to its big-money projects such as extending the Light Rail Transit tracks and building the multibillion Mass Rapid Transit projects in the Klang Valley amid the budget revision, but 4PAM said more needs to be done, including improvement to security at rail stations.
4PAM president Ajit Johl wants the government to abolish the fare hike on all public transport services and introduce a more “transparent” mechanism by setting up a Public Transport Tariff Review Committee which would include all stakeholders, saying that years of unrevised tariffs is no excuse to bump up charges drastically.
“So before they set a tariff hike, there must be a KPI (key performance indicators), what they plan to achieve before a tariff hike…This is required now, very, very critical at this juncture because the billions that the government has spent on public transport will go to waste if these mechanisms are not put in place,” he said.
“The government should reinstate the incentives for hybrid cars like the Toyotas and Hondas, that are used by the working class for commuting, instead of giving them for the high-cost models like Audis, BMWs, Mercedes and Volvos… all of which are more like the
rich men’s tech toys,” said youth group UndiMsia.
While they have more secure jobs, the 1.2 billion civil servants too have had to tighten their belts all round. Union representatives contacted hoped the government could review their cost of living allowance and standardise it to RM300 across the board as some who live in certain rural areas currently only receive RM150.
“We have not tasted bonus in a while now. If the government is able to, please consider two months annual bonus. We are not asking much,” Cuepacs president Datuk Azih Muda said.
Ever since Budget 2014, civil servants have only been granted half-month pay bonus, while in Budget 2016 they were only given a RM500 “special assistance”.
Students were arguably the worst-hit demographic group in the January budget revision, after 744 places for overseas students scholarship under the Public Service Department were cut to save about RM240 million, according to Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Datuk Seri Azalina Othman Said.
One of UndiMsia’s members related a situation where some teachers even dug into their own pockets to enhance lessons for their students.
The budget revision was also said to bite the coffers of local public universities, forcing their managements to scrape for money, which affected the quality of higher education.
“We urge the government to stop slashing budget for education sector, including higher education, and to increase the allocation instead. Allocations for upgrading the facilities in universities and improving the academic and research sector must also be increased,” said Umany president Ho Chi Yang.
Source : IDA LIM, YISWAREE PALANSAMY AND ZURAIRI AR@The Malay Mail Online