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Act now against profiteering

Publication Date : 08-01-2014

 

Malaysians' purse strings are looking frayed these days. Rarely a day goes by without us finding out that yet another item or two now costs more.

It began last year with the government’s programme to rationalise subsidies as a measure to narrow the country’s fiscal deficit and to better help those in need.

As a result, fuel and sugar prices have gone up, and so have electricity tariffs.

But of course, it has not stopped there. An increasing number of businesses regard these hikes as a cue to increase revenue.

The cost of eating out is a widely used benchmark – after all, Malaysians have an enduring love affair with street food and restaurants – and the ongoing stream of complaints leave no room for doubt that we are forking out more for our drinks and dishes.

We also face price increases for edible ice, stationery, road tolls, transportation, and yes, even mandarin oranges. The fear is that we will get sucked into a price spiral, with each round of hikes triggering another.

It is hard to shake off such pessimism when we know that the goods and services tax (GST) will be introduced in April next year. This is expected to push up prices again.

Yes, we as consumers can respond to the higher cost of living by modifying our behaviour.

We have to be less wasteful in our consumption and more careful in our spending.

However, thoughtfulness can only go so far when going up against businesses intent on preserving, and perhaps expanding, profit margins.

If businessmen are exploiting the situation to raise prices disproportionately, the authorities should step in.

It is hard to balance market-friendly policies with the need to look after the welfare of the rakyat (the people), but we can all agree that the government should act against profiteering.

We already have the Price Control and Anti-Profiteering Act 2011. When the Act was still a bill tabled in Parliament, the explanatory statement said the document was to “enable the government to determine prices of goods or charges for services and at the same time to curb profiteering activities, thereby protecting the interest of consumers”.

The Act was gazetted in January 2011. Many of us are familiar with the price control provisions of the Act, but it is time that we see the anti-profiteering rules in action.

Enforcement against profiteering is meant to be part of the goods and services tax (GST) strategy, but why wait until April when we seem to have the right conditions to test the legislation? Would it not be comforting to know well in advance that the anti-profiteering provisions are sturdy enough to do what they are supposed to do once the GST is imposed?

Under the Act, it is an offence to profiteer, which is defined as making unreasonably high profit.

The Act also provides for the formulation of a mechanism to determine if profit is indeed unreasonably high.

Hopefully, it will not be long before the government reveals how it plans to address profiteering. Otherwise, our purse strings may not be the only things that are unravelling.

 

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