How Putrajaya’s new economic council can tackle rising cost of living

PETALING JAYA: Stakeholders and experts have suggested a number of measures for the government’s new Economic Action Council to help combat the rising cost of living.

The 16-member council, chaired by the prime minister, will examine and make decisions on economic and financial matters as well as look into problems faced by the public.

Yeah Kim Leng, a lecturer at Sunway University Business School, suggested reducing the cost of doing business by cutting down on red tape.

“The government can also help players in key sectors like telecommunications, education, medical care and housing with initiatives which reduce their costs and increase their productivity,” he added.

The ultimate goal of such measures, he said, would be cost savings which would translate into lower prices for the people.

The Institute for Democracy and Economic Affairs (IDEAS) meanwhile urged the government to avoid price controls and blanket subsidies.

IDEAS chief executive Ali Salman proposed that the government instead lower the cost of public transport, communications and housing by encouraging more competition in these sectors.

He also called on the government to simplify the recruitment process for foreign workers, saying the existing mechanism is too costly and complex which contributes to the hiring of illegal immigrants.

This, in turn, would lead to lower wages for legal workers in industries like construction and agriculture, he said.

“Bringing in formalised labour will put pressure on employers to increase wages,” he said, adding that this would help ease the cost of living.

Consumers’ Association of Penang president SM Mohamed Idris proposed increasing tax for those earning higher incomes and using these funds to boost public services through the construction of more hospitals, among others.

“The government should also consider providing more incentives for farming to boost the supply of local produce to help bring down their prices,” he told FMT.

He also urged consumers to change their spending habits by cutting down on unnecessary purchases.

Speaking on concerns related to health costs, the Galen Centre for Health and Social Policy said the government should support public-private partnership initiatives to make use of under-utilised private healthcare resources.

“Some 70% of healthcare in the country is delivered by the public sector but is served by just 45% of all registered doctors. The private sector caters to only about 30% of the population but is made up of around 55% of all registered doctors,” said Galen CEO Azrul Mohd Khalib.

Noting the problem of overcrowding at public hospitals, which often see long waiting times and delays in treatment, he said the private sector is presently under-utilised.

“Many private hospitals only utilise 20% of their beds most of the time. This is a severe imbalance,” he added.

Felda activist Mazlan Aliman said an increase in settlers’ income would help reduce the impact of cost of living and the fall in commodity prices.

Planting crops on unused land, meanwhile, could help prevent total dependence on commodities, he said.

He also suggested that the space between felled palm trees be used to plant other crops such as watermelons and pineapples.

Bumiputera Retailers Organisation vice-president Ameer Ali Mydin however cautioned that more expenditure is needed to combat the rising costs.

“Don’t spend money wastefully, but spend some money,” he said.

Ameer, who is managing director of the Mydin chain of hypermarkets, also suggested that the government reduce intervention in the market.

He gave the example of sugar, where the retail price is controlled by the government at RM2.85 per kg. If left to market forces, he said, the price could drop.

Malaysian Trades Union Congress secretary-general J Solomon said the government should abolish the National Higher Education Fund Corporation and provide free education for the Bottom 40 (B40) and Middle 40 (M40) groups.

He said the time was right for the government to move from a minimum wage to a living wage, to allow workers to meet their basic economic needs.