MALAYSIA Tanah Tumpah Darahku


Sunday, December 31, 2023

Tax the rich to fund healthcare for the poor, says ex-MP


Dr Michael Jeyakumar Devaraj says the government cannot put enough into health services because the budget is tight as wealth is captured by the very rich.

PETALING JAYA: High taxes should be imposed on the wealthy to bolster healthcare funding for the poor, says Parti Sosialis Malaysia chairman Dr Michael Jeyakumar Devaraj.

He said there was a stark difference between the increase in Malaysia’s gross domestic product (GDP) over the past 50 years compared with the minimal wage growth for workers.

While the nation’s wealth had grown tremendously, it had not resulted in increased benefits for average Malaysians, said Jeyakumar, a former MP for Sungai Siput.

He said wealth was being amassed by a select few, primarily the corporate class, both local and foreign.

“Looking back to 1970, Malaysia’s GDP was RM11.8 billion. Fast forward 50 years to 2019, and it reached RM1,513 billion. When adjusted for inflation, which was about 520% over this period, the GDP actually increased 24-fold in real terms.

“However, during the same period, the average factory worker’s wages only increased by 1.4 times. This disparity illustrates a situation where the country’s GDP has skyrocketed by 24 times, yet the per capita income of workers has seen a minimal rise.

“We’re creating so much wealth but they (the government) cannot put enough into health services because our budget is tight. Why is our budget tight? Wealth is increasing but it is captured by the very rich. There is a need to strategise tax,” he said in an interview with FMT.

Jeyakumar criticised the current trend of lowering corporate taxes, a strategy employed by Asean countries to attract foreign investment.

Describing this strategy as a race to the bottom, he said the reduced government revenue had limited Putrajaya’s ability to invest in crucial sectors such as health.

He proposed a regional collaboration with Asean countries to come up with alternative ways to compete for foreign investment without sacrificing tax revenue.

Immediate steps could be implemented to boost healthcare funding, such as subsidy rationalisation, reducing wastage in government spending, and imposing higher consumption taxes on luxury goods

In October, former health minister Dr S Subramaniam said the government would need to double the health budget to achieve the mark of 4% of GDP and solve long-term funding problems.

Subramaniam, co-chair of the health white paper advisory council, said the health allocation of RM41.2 billion took up 10.5% of the 2024 budget, but comprised only 2.1% of GDP.

Land tussles involving farmers

Separately, Jeyakumar voiced concern over the eviction of vegetable farmers at the Kanthan vegetable farm in Tambun, Perak.

He said the farm, which was recognised and allowed to operate by both colonial and post-independence governments, was under threat due to urbanisation and lucrative real estate developments.

“Only about 5% of the 8.4 million hectares of agricultural land in this country is being used for vegetable farming. And (the government is) selling the land to developers.

“It’s very short-sighted to jeopardise Malaysia’s food security considering that 50% of our vegetables are imported,” he said.

He criticised the state and federal governments over their apparent silence and inaction in safeguarding the farm, calling for a commission to be established to investigate land allocation decisions.

He suggested that federal funds be used to reclaim land already awarded for development, saying these plots of land should be leased back to farmers with the stipulation of cultivating vegetables for the local market.

Jeyakumar also said an independent agricultural land board should be established in each state to ensure a check and balance for land allocation decisions, adding that this committee should be independent of the menteris besar of the various states.

In October, Jeyakumar, PSM committee member M Karthiges, Perak PSM Youth member P Kesavan, and a farmer identified as Ho Pon Tien were arrested over a protest held at the farm.

At the protest, Karthiges told reporters that the farmers had been handed an eviction notice on Oct 13, stating that their farms were situated on land owned by the Perak Development Corporation and instructing them to vacate the land within a week. - FMT

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