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Profiteering in Malaysia’s discount card era

August 24, 2012

FMT LETTER: From Stephen Doss, via e-mail

Every time the cost of petrol were to go up in Malaysia, there would be a corresponding if not higher increase of everyday goods, most notably food stuff. A 10 cent increase in petrol would see a 10 to 20 cent increase in roti canai and teh tarik, likewise the same with many of our favourite food.

That’s the way it has always been, prices which have gone up have never come down, ever since the price of oil was floated, prices of petrol have fluctuated up and down but not the price of food which just like everything else have remained up.

Businessmen find the flimsiest of excuses to increase prices, sometimes even beyond comprehension. The same businessman who increases the price of roti canai 10 cents when the price of petrol goes up 10 cents will not bring down the price of roti canai 10 cents when the price of petrol goes down 20 cents.

That’s just the nature of the businessman whose sole reason for being in business is too make as much money as possible in the shortest time possible. They have also raised prices at the beginning of a cultural or religious festival, whether during Chinese New Year or during Hari Raya, prices seem to always go up every year.

So used are we Malaysians to their oft used tactics that we have became immune, it’s as if it is almost expected, and we are relieved when the prices go up by a small percentage instead of the usual increase. And we rarely complain.

Selfish businessmen are just doing what comes naturally to them, we just cannot expect them to go against their nature, just as we cannot expect  a leopard to change its spots just because it is not hungry.

So how is it that suddenly the Prime Minister seems to be able to get them to give discounts when consumers presented with government issued discount  cards come a calling.

The government has announced to great fanfare and issued discount cards to students, uniformed agencies, civil servants, the under privileged and pensioners. The way things are going soon every Malaysian will be carrying a discount card.

What gives?

Businessmen who for years have refused to budge, refused to bring down prices even when threatened by government, today are willingly signing up as outlets subscribing to giving discounts under a government programme. They smilingly pose next to the Prime Minister or next to structures with 1Malaysia slogans.

We can only pray that they are not resorting to one of two strategies:

One, these businessmen are reducing the portion of their products in order to subscribe as outlets that offer these discounts, they reduce the portions for every consumer, those with discounts and those who may be paying the normal fare.

So not only do the rest of us who do not have discount cards not enjoy these discounts we now get less than before for the same price. Those who do get a discount with their discount cards may pay less, but they get less too. Of course they can’t complain.

The second strategy is even worse; they may raise the prices of products before giving a discount, which takes us back to square one, that’s for those who have discount cards. For those of us who do not have discount cards, well enjoy your new inflated prices for the same portion.

All these may just be conjecture on my part, as these businessmen after years of making sinful profits may just have decided to turn over a new leaf and finally decided it is time to become good citizens.

I may be wrong, I doubt it.

But if I were in government, especially post the next general election, I would want to keep a close eye on these outlets who have subscribed to offering lower prices to ensure that everything is above board.

Stephen Doss is a social activist and political observer. He is currently the President of the International Social Media Chambers.


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