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Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Protes to launch anti-price hike campaign on Wednesday


Wong Choon Mei, Malaysia Chronicle

Protes – a coalition of Malaysian NGOs, pressure groups and civil society leaders against fuel price hikes – will launch a campaign on July 28 to raise public awareness against the government’s recent slew of subsidy cuts.


“We will be officially launching a nationwide campaign that will include public seminars, ceramahs to inform the citizens of their rights,” Protes coordinator Dr Hatta Ramli toldMalaysia Chronicle.

“Pamphlets and leaflets will be distributed to keep the public informed, and the road shows and tours that we are planning will culminate in a mammoth rally, hopefully in Kuala Lumpur, as soon as we can. Before fasting begins, if possible.”

Poor hit the most

On July 15, Prime Minister Najib Razak had announced a five-sen price increase for RON95, the mostly commonly used grade of petrol, and for diesel as well. He also put the higher-grade RON97 on a managed float that will subject it to price fluctuations in the market.

LPG was raised 10 sen to RM1.85 per kg, while sugar was also hiked by 25sen to RM1.75 per kg. Cooking gas was increased by RM1 to RM18.50 for the 10kg cylinder, by RM1.20 to RM22.20 for the 12kg cylinder and by RM1.40 to RM25.90 for the 14kg cylinder.

According to Najib, the price hikes will save the government RM750 million in subsidies. But consumer groups and opposition leaders have slammed the move, saying it was unjustified because the low-income groups stood to suffer the most.

“RM750 million is nowadays peanuts. If Najib wants to raise this amount, he can easily trim some other subsidy, Why not take from the independent power producers or the toll road operators. Why raise sugar, cooking gas? Even the petrol increase of 5 sen will mean a lot to ordinary folk and this is before the multiplier effect. It will result in more costly cooked food and transportation later on. But is anyone going to increase the people's gaji (salary),” Hatta, who is also PAS treasurer-general, said.

Indeed, the slew of price hikes has drawn lukewarm response from market experts, while many ordinary Malaysians have expressed anger. Opposition Leader Anwar Ibrahim has urged Najib to plow the money back into educational projects or some form of direct aid to the low-income groups.

“The public has the right to know what the government is going to do with their money. You cannot simply shift the burden to them or ask them to change their lifestyle because of the government’s own financial mismanagement. At least 80 percent of Malaysians will be badly impacted by the price hikes. And from what we know, this is just the first round with more price increases coming very soon.”

Before fasting begins

MCA deputy president Liow Tiong Lay has been among BN leaders to express support for Najib’s subsidy cuts, saying that it would curb smuggling of resources to neighbouring countries.

“MCA hopes that the subsidy policy implemented will focus on the ordinary people and benefit Malaysian citizens as a whole. Subsidies are meant to help poor Malaysians, yet many foreigners continue to take advantage of this price gap,” Liow said.

But Hatta shot back.

“I hate to be rude but this is bullshit. Is Liow saying that to spite the foreigners, we must kill own people in the process?” Hatta said.

In 2008, Protes staged several highly-charged rallies, with turnout easily exceeding 50,000 people. Hatta hopes for a new record crowd size.

"The people are seething their anger. I think for sure we will be able to achieve even better awareness this year. We hope we can work fast enough to hold the rally before mid-August when Ramadhan will begin," Hatta said.

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