PETALING JAYA: PSM’s Dr Michael Jeyakumar has questioned Putrajaya’s initiatives to help the bottom 40 or B40 income group nearly a year after Pakatan Harapan (PH) took over from Barisan Nasional (BN) in the May 9 polls.
“In terms of handling the problems of the bottom 50% of the population, they haven’t done so well,” he told FMT ahead of PH’s one-year anniversary in power.
“And this has already backfired.”
The former Sungai Siput MP gave the example of incentives to help rubber smallholders in the constituency whom he said consist primarily of B40 Malays.
Under BN, he said, these smallholders received small stipends whenever the price of scrap rubber fell below RM2.20.
“Every month, the rubber tappers sent in their returns – how many kg of scrap rubber they sold – and the Malaysian Rubber Board would see what the average scrap price was and pay them the difference, usually 30 sen per kg.
“It wasn’t that much, but the people appreciated it. It was stopped by PH when they took over as they had no money,” he said, adding that a similar situation also befell local fishermen at one point last year.
He was referring to the RM200 monthly aid for fishermen which was axed after PH took over Putrajaya. PH later agreed to restore “additional allocations” but only seven months after the general election.
“These kinds of things that the new government stopped when they took over send the wrong message. It’s as if they didn’t think it through,” Jeyakumar said.
He warned that PH had been voted in largely on the back of non-Malay support, and “not that much” by the Malays who make up a large chunk of the B40 group.
“My estimate is about 25% of the Malays voted for PH in GE14,” he said. “The other 75% voted for PAS and Umno because they didn’t quite trust PH.”
Claiming there has been a decline in B40 support for the government, he attributed this to Putrajaya’s failure to “adequately address” issues like the weakening ringgit and rise in cost of goods.
“They took away the goods and services tax, but inflation and prices did not come down because (expecting this to result in cheaper goods) was an oversimplification,” he said.
He also claimed that PH had not been “bold enough” to implement a significant increase in minimum wage, while criticising its affordable housing plans for the poor.
“They talk about affordable housing. But for whom is RM200,000 affordable? Not the B40,” he said, referring to the RM200,000-RM500,000 threshold price for affordable housing in the peninsula.
The PSM central committee member suggested that PH look into increasing disposable income for the B40 and reducing the cost of living for the poor.
He gave the example of a food coupon programme which he said had been successfully implemented in India.
“Those who are considered B40 are given a card that is capped at a certain amount each month where they can buy basic goods. This has helped the hardcore poor,” he said.
He also called for a review of the minimum wage for the B40 which he said would benefit small-time businessmen and hawkers, and voiced concern over the issue of illegal foreign workers.
He warned that more foreign labour would drive down wage flow which would have the greatest impact on the B40 group.