Track RM2b savings from austerity drive

The Sun
MOST Malaysians are still angry and unhappy with the government for suddenly upping last week fuel prices by the highest margins to date. Almost daily, reports of mounting increases in the price of crude since last year had long convinced them that the government would have to make that painful announcement as it could no longer afford the subsidy to ease their burden of having to pay the market price for their fuel consumption like people in other countries in the region.

And most, therefore, had braced themselves for gradual increases. Thus they were quite stunned by the huge jumps where the new price of premium unleaded petrol rose by 78 sen to RM2.70 a litre. Diesel is up by RM1 a litre to RM2.58.

Having made the decision, the government must have been quite surprised that there was no widespread violent reactions to the huge increases and also to the notice that the rakyat would also have to pay higher electricity tariff from July 1.

Credit must go the people for their huge collective rationality, their sense of reasonableness and their willingness to sacrifice and to tighten their belts. It probably has little to do with the confusing noises the government has been making since Thursday hoping by them to pacify the rakyat and to soothe their anger. Or by the call by ministers for the rakyat to help fight the expected increases in prices of goods and services caused by the new fuel prices.

The sentiment is that the people can certainly help but for the most part it is the duty of the government and its various enforcement agencies which must do their utmost to prevent profiteering, no matter how small, so that the rakyat do not have to suffer some more. But the announcement on Monday by the government to slash its expenditure so that it can save RM2 billion, which would go towards expanding the social safety nets for the poor and the lower income groups, seems to resonate with the rakyat. Some are starting to take notice that having done what it could no longer avoid doing the government is empathising with the rakyat by making sacrifices as well as embarking on cost-cutting measures and cut back on frills.

But it must do much more and its officials, especially ministers and deputy ministers, must give up much of their entertainment allowances and such privileges as paid holidays to convince the rakyat that their leaders are just as affected as them – suffering with them – and, therefore, there is hardly any merit for anyone to organise street protests against the new fuel prices.

However, there must be complete transparency on the accounting and managing of the savings and how they are subsequently spent.

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