Commentary Politics

Good policy change shifts attitude

ChangeMOle

Shahrum Sayuthi
Written by Shahrum Sayuthi

May 4 2017

THE retail prices for petrol RON95 and RON97 went down by 10 sen today. It is at RM2.11 per litre and RM2.39 per litre respectively until May 10.

The price of diesel has also decreased by six sen to RM2.08 per litre for the same week period.

This news, however, hardly caused any ripple among members of the public when it was announced last night.

It is a far cry from previously when every announcement of fuel prices shift caused intense discussions and in cases of increases, triggered public outcry and much anger towards the government.

Increases in fuel prices even by a few sen have been  said to be one of the main reasons Barisan Nasional did poorly in the 2008 general election, which subsequently forced Tun Abdullah Ahmad Badawi to step down from his prime minister’s post.

Weekly pricing for fuels was introduced on April 1. Prior to that prices were set monthly.

The change of policy appeared to have worked well in managing public sentiment and stopping businesses from using increase of fuel prices as an excuse to hike up prices of goods.

The public appeared to be getting used to the new policy just a month after its introduction.

There were no more long queues at petrol stations whenever fuel price increases were announced the next day.

Everyone seems to be settling to the fact that the fluctuation of fuel prices is just something one needs to live with.

Most cannot even be bothered to keep track of the fuel prices anymore and probably would not even realise that fuel prices today are actually cheaper than just before the weekly pricing was introduced.

At the end of March, RON 95 petrol was at RM2.30 per litre, RON 97 petrol was at RM2.60 per litre and diesel was at RM2.20 per litre. Those were more expensive by 19 sen, 21 sen and 12 sen respectively from the prices for this week.

When Domestic Trade, Co-operatives and Consumerism Minister Datuk Seri Hamzah Zainudin announced that a new weekly fuel pricing mechanism would be used from last month onwards, he said the weekly mechanism would allow consumers to enjoy a more stable retail fuel price in comparison to the former monthly price.

He said the ministry had had several consultations with oil companies, station operators, non-governmental organisations and other relevant parties before coming up with the change in the pricing mechanism.

The prices of petrol and diesel had been placed on a managed monthly float system since Dec 1, 2014, following the removal of fuel subsidies.

As it turned out, the ministry’s policy shift has worked brilliantly so far in managing, especially, negative public sentiments, fueled by the opposition parties’ campaign to demonise the government.

The government was depicted as not caring for the rakyat and causing them hardship when the fuel subsidies were removed.

In fact, the decision to end decades-old petrol and diesel subsidies was an attempt to save billions of ringgit and reduce the country’s fiscal deficit.

It was part of a plan by Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak to narrow the country’s fiscal deficit to 3.5 per cent of gross domestic product this year and balance the books by 2020.

The move to fix the prices of fuel according to a“managed float” was to enable them to move in tandem with the currently weak global oil prices and ensure Malaysians enjoy the most from it.

Previously, the government spends more than RM2 billion per month to keep the price of fuel artificially low.

Even foreigners were able to enjoy these subsidies.

Najib was right when he said spending such a huge amount for that purpose was not sustainable and prevents the government from investing in other programme which could better benefit Malaysians.

Unfortunately for the Prime Minister, he had to take a beating at opinion polls when he gradually cut back on subsidies including those for fuel in recent years.

Nonetheless, as proven by the success of the weekly fuel pricing policy in managing public sentiments, the tide maybe changing as the government finds more ways not only to do the right things for Malaysians but also appear to be doing so in their eyes.

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Shahrum Sayuthi

Shahrum Sayuthi