Fuel price hike will hit rural Sarawak hard
KUCHING: The recent price increase of RON 95 petrol and diesel will hit the low income Sarawakians the hardest, especially those living in rural areas in the hinterland.
The additional 20 sen per litre for either fuel would mean extra costs to the already expensive public transport including riverine and coastal vessels as well.
Due to its large geographical size of 124,450 square kilometres (taking up 37 per cent of Malaysia’s total land area), swampy coastal fringes and mountainous terrain in the interior, the costs and technical difficulties in constructing a proper network of roads are more prominent.
In lieu of roads, many rural inhabitants rely on ferries and boats for everyday commuting as well as going home to their villages or home towns for extended public holidays.
Sarawak Workers Party president Larry Sng (pix) told theantdaily that the issue of fuel prices is a real concern judging from the feedback on the ground.
“Transport in rural areas is definitely more expensive than in the urban areas, particularly in places like my hometown Kapit [in the interior of central Sarawak].
“People move around by boat along rivers which is more expensive than land transport.
“When we talk about such an increase in fuel prices, it doesn’t only affect the price of transport but also the prices of goods and services.
“We will see an increase in the cost of living particularly for people in rural areas simply because the cost of transporting the goods to these people is much higher than in the cities.
“On top of that, the cost of living, day-to-day transport, going back to the longhouse – all these would have a very big impact on people’s livelihood,” said Sng.
When contacted by theantdaily, an express boat operator explained that the company’s current fares were being maintained for the time being as they had already been increased prior to the Hari Raya Aidil Fitri holiday season.
However, theantdaily discovered that higher prices are known to be imposed when demand for boat tickets exceeds available seats, especially during peak seasonal crests when thousands go home for holidays.
On his Facebook page, Sng expressed his hope that the government would take real measures to improve public transport in the cities.
“More people in lower income groups will need to rely on such modes of transport simply because the cost of owning a car is becoming too expensive.
“In Kuching, the government should improve bus routes and retire buses over 15 years.
“It is unacceptable to see busses over 20 years carrying passengers around town, especially STC [Sarawak Transport Company Bhd] which is partially owned by the state government,” he said in a posting on Sept 3.
Sarawakians are getting a raw deal with comparatively lower salaries and a lesser minimum wage of RM800 per month for East Malaysia (compared with RM900 per month for Peninsular Malaysia).
Despite the lower average income, they have to shoulder the burden of higher cost of living, partially stemming from higher logistics, transport and handling costs of goods.
These items are almost always shipped from the peninsula by a small pool of Malaysian logistics players (thanks to the national cabotage policy) and range from mundane everyday items such household goods to more expensive occasional purchases such as a new vehicle.
The Perodua Viva BX660 – the most affordable new car available in Malaysia – costs RM24,924.30 (on the road price with insurance) in Peninsular Malaysia but the price tag is RM1,595.70 higher in Kuching while buyers in Miri or Bintulu would have to fork out an extra RM1,730.10 for the same car.
The differences invariably escalate with more expensive vehicles and these additional costs do not include finance charges payable to the lending institutions when taking hire purchase agreements into consideration, which is almost always the case.