A Rakyat-Centric Budget 2015?

Editor’s Desk

By Fathol Zaman-Bukhari

I thought the October 2 nationwide petrol and diesel price hike was part of Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Abdul Razak’s now famous tag line, “subsidy-rationalisation exercise” to reduce the people’s over dependence on subsidies which is milking the country’s coffers dry.

Rumours of the price hike made their rounds in the social media. RON 95 and diesel would be raised by as much as 40 sen at midnight Monday, October 1. Since the news was merely hearsay,  not many took heed of it until later in the evening when it became apparent that a 20‑sen hike in price was in the offing for both the commodities.

The mad scramble that ensues after every price increase had yet to start. I left and filled up my car at the nearest gas station and returned home quietly. My poor wife did not even realise that I had done my duty as a concerned Malaysian car owner. When we were out for dinner that evening all the kiosks we passed by were jam-packed with cars and motorcycles.

Why the rush to raise the price when it could be done anytime of the year? This was the burning question on my mind. Why a hike early in the month of October when next year’s budget would be tabled in Parliament on Friday October 10? It certainly did not make sense. Was it an ill-conceived attempt at a cover-up?

The cat was finally out of the bag. The Prime Minister, towards the end of his Budget 2015 speech and after taking a dig at the Opposition, proudly announced that RON 95 and diesel would not be on the Goods and Services Tax (GST) list in April 2015. It was a clever ruse indeed. Had this grade of petrol remained at RM2.10 a litre, a six per cent tax would be much lower than its present price of RM2.30 a litre.

It did not, however, stop a deputy minister from proclaiming that Prime Minister Najib was the only premier that ever lowered the price of petrol. Incidentally, it was the price of the super grade RON 97 that was lowered not the ubiquitous RON 95. How silly could this junior minister be?

The mainstream media went about town trumpeting that it was a rakyat-centric budget to placate anxious Malaysians who are reeling from a debilitating crunch caused by a shrinking ringgit brought about by inflationary pressure and burgeoning national debts that are almost 55 per cent of GDP (Gross Domestic Product).

Next year’s allocation of about RM240 billion is undoubtedly huge but the sum is insufficient to address Malaysians’ biggest problem – mounting household debts. Malaysia is the only country in the world that allows its citizens to settle car loans in nine years and housing loans in 35 years! Prices of houses are out of the range of most wage earners, as their take-home pay is less than RM3,000 a month. How are they to service the loans when they will have little left after deductions?

Provision is made to overcome the lingering first-house-ownership problem by guaranteeing the 10 per cent deposit required for the purchase of a new house. There is, however, no mention of ways to acquire bank loans for the remaining 90 per cent. Purchase of houses under the government-sponsored housing schemes is for civil servants. Those from the private sector are being left out in the cold once again.

The only sweetener of Budget 2015 is the increase in Bantuan Rakyat 1Malaysia or BRIM. Those with a household income of less than RM3,000 will now get RM950 and those in the RM3,000 to RM4,000 bracket will get RM750. The cash handouts will be made in three payments.

Is the money sufficient to make up for our spending on necessities now that GST is looming ominously in the horizon? It is impolite of me to speculate. Meanwhile, let us join the rest in the BRIM queue next year.

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