Sabah opposition takes BN government to task for its callous treatment of hard-pressed Sabahans.
KOTA KINABALU: Barisan Nasional’s (BN) poor handling of the higher cost of living in Sabah and now the increase in power tariffs begining this month may have given the opposition in the state a boost.
Sabahans are venting their anger on state ministers who seem oblivious to their hardship.
Several state ministers have brushed off public criticism of the increases in consumer goods and power rates, leaving themselves open to charges that they are out of touch with reality.
Sabah, which is already crippled by poor infrastructure, is regarded as the poorest in Malaysia despite its oil and gas wealth.
The latest BN ministers to feel the heat are Deputy Chief Minister Joseph Pairin Kitingan and Industrial Development Minister Raymond Tan. who was formerly from the opposition Sabah Progressive Party (SAPP).
Both Pairin and Tan have justified the price rises as “unavoidable”.
While Pairin had described the increase in the prices of goods and services in Sabah as “unavoidable” due to global influences, Tan justified the power rates hike as “necessary” despite acknowledging that the state’s economic growth is reeling for lack of power.
But SAPP leaders are less than convinced that the hikes are inevitable.
Criticising the government for asking the people to “consume less sugar” and “use fuel efficiently”, SAPP women leader Melanie Chia said the government was simply “arrogant”.
“You cannot fool the voters with calls to consume less sugar and save fuel and urge them to change their lifetsyles.
“This is arrogance. It is not their lifestyle that needs change… it is the government,” she said.
Chia was responding to the Tenaga Nasional Bhd (TNB) and Sabah Electricity Sdn Bhd’s (SESB) decision to increase the power rates by an average of 15% in Sabah.
Energy, Green Technology and Water Minister Peter Chin Fah Kui announced the increase on Saturday, saying that the tariff restructuring was necessary due to increasing cost of supply.
But Chia, who is Luyang state assemblywoman, feels there is little justification for the move.
She described the hike as an abuse of the BN’s “fixed deposit” state.
“Perhaps the BN is so confident of this fixed deposit that it cannot hear the pleas of the people nor feel the crunch of the rising costs of living faced by the people,” she said.
Complaining that the restructuring exercise lacked transparency, she said: “The government is not giving a full picture of the tariff restructuring.”
“To say the increase is 15% is misleading,” she added.
She was also shocked by Chin’s claim that 75% of the domestic consumers whose monthly consumption is 350kWh and below will experience reduction or no increase in their monthly bills.
“This is hardly true because the current rate for domestic consumer above 201kWh is 28 sen.
“But under the restructuring exercise, the new rate would be 33 sen for consumption between 201kWh and 500 kWh and 34.5 sen for consumption above 501kWh.
“How can the government not be mindful of the direct and indirect costs of the power tariff increase and the resulting burden on the domestic consumers?” she asked.
According to Chia, the previous rate for the low voltage commercial tariff was 32 sen per kWh for the first 1,000 kWh and only 27 sen for all consumption above 1,001kWh.
The new rate for this category is 33 sen for the first 200kWh and increases to 33.5 sen for consumption above 201kWh.
“This would be an increase of 24%… and this increased production costs or the cost of business operation will definitely be passed on to the consumers,” Chia said.
She added that the introduction of the peak/off-peak tariff classes, which has also been widely practised elsewhere, may not be immediately useful in the Sabah environment.
Chia also slammed SESB’s comparison of Sabah’s power tariff with that of Indonesia, Sarawak, Thailand, Peninsular Malaysia, Hong Kong, Singapore and the Philippines.
“It’s an illusion… SESB should also compare our general standards of living in Sabah when considering the tariff restructuring,” she said.