1Malaysia, 1Price: Can Najib pull it off?
COMMENT: With more than 100 days gone since Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak took office, people are now wondering if they are getting their vote's worth for letting him take the stewardship for the next five years.
Promises made in the government's manifesto were focused on alleviating the cost of living for Malaysians as a whole, including the promise of more Bantuan Rakyat 1Malaysia handouts, better public transport and even more book vouchers to reduce the cost for college students.
But at the same time, Najib will also have to deal with an international ratings downgrade by Fitch Ratings which will surely make all future mega projects, including the MRT, the LRT extension plan and even the KLIA2 more expensive should further funds be acquired via government-backed bonds.
With Standard and Poor's (S&P) citing an increasing number of government-backed debts as a worrying signal, Malaysia can only wait and hope that it does not follow the same trend come this month.
With this in mind, the prime minister must also look at keeping the promise of standardising the price of goods as stated in his manifesto. Dubbed the 1Malaysia,1Price policy, no further explanation has been made regarding its definition.
Does this mean that consumer goods in Peninsular Malaysia will be raised to tally with the Borneo states, or will the federal government move to absorb the transport costs in East Malaysia to reduce the prices?
Furthermore, is the government only looking at lowering the prices of consumer goods in the Kedai Runcit 1Malaysia or throughout the entire state?
The latter was a promise also made by Pakatan Rakyat in its Orange Manifesto. However, such a move would have cost the federal government billions while not solving the problem.
The major problem in East Malaysia is still logistics, and Najib's government has highlighted measures to deal with this issue. The lengthily stalled Pan Borneo Expressway has been rekindled with funds in the hundreds of millions being allocated by the Works Ministry.
However, with the Transport Ministry being quietly managed by an acting minister, no word has been forthcoming on the expressway.
In addition to this, ports are being upgraded to cope with larger ships to dock and ship more goods.
Whether this translates to economies of scale allowing for cheaper prices for both Sabah and Sarawak is a subject that even analysts are not keen to comment on. However, the same analysts do agree that such a boom in infrastructure would lead to better development in industry for both states.
The prime minister knows that he won his last election through the good graces of the people of Sabah and Sarawak, and now he must ensure that he is able to deliver his promises to the Malaysians across the South China Sea urgently.
However, the lack of movement in his first 100 days showed either a lack of direction in the federal administration which will cause another delay in the projects, or a quiet working behind the scenes for a surprise announcement.
Either way, the silence of the MPs of both Sabah and Sarawak on the matter is deafening.
On the peninsular side of Malaysia, yet another question arises: if Malaysia is to be priced evenly, does that mean the Domestic Trade and Consumer Affairs Ministry will also be looking at the pricing of goods in the rural areas to be raised equivalent to the urban cities, or vice versa?
Judging by the minister's statement of how consumers should not buy chicken if it was too pricey during the festive season, consumers can only hope and pray this policy does not translate for all goods sold in the market.
With continuing rises in the cost of living in both urban and rural areas in Malaysia as a whole, the government would do well to focus on the bread and butter issues of the people.