Govt can do more to curb food prices

The hike will change consumers’ purchasing patterns, activating panic buying mode and impacting distribution chain

by NUR HANANI AZMAN / pic by MUHD AMIN NAHARUL

CONSUMER groups blame the lack of government intervention as the big reason for runaway hikes in food prices.

Prices of everything from chicken to cooking oil have steadily risen since the coronavirus pandemic disrupted supply chain since last year, but things are worse than they should be.

Consumers Association of Subang and Shah Alam said there seems to be a paralysis of action from the government which usually steps in when consumer prices begin to burden the people.

Its president Datuk Prof Dr Jacob George blames this lack of intervention on the current state of Emergency that has also suspended the Parliament, which he described as artificially created.

George said food price hikes cannot be tackled by the ministry for domestic trade alone, but instead, it needs the whole government to act in concert.

“The Cabinet cannot expect one ministry alone to tackle the problem that is prevailing in the country. Instead, let the interministerial discussion happen, then formulate a pricing index and monitor it.

“Make a one-year action plan, not only for festive season. Run it for a year, check every month (whether it is) working or not. If something is wrong, solve it,” he told The Malaysian Reserve (TMR).

George, with 45 years of experience addressing public interest issues, said the government is not engaging consumer groups to handle the problem.

He said price hike will change consumers’ purchasing patterns which activate the panic buying mode where people buy more and impact the distribution chain.

“The government needs to set a competent task force with intelligent members to sit with policymakers, so they can advise the ministers after being on the ground on a plan of action that can be rolled out to address the issue.

“To come out with realistic costs, we have to make sure people on the ground or people in the marketplace are not profiteering,” he added.

George said he was part of a task force which was set up before the last election, but the committee didn’t get off the ground with the change in government.

Meanwhile, Federation of Malaysian Consumers Associations (Fomca) CEO Datuk Dr Paul Selvaraj said increases in prices are not just an immediate problem, but caused by investment in agriculture and supply chain competitiveness.

He said a lot of production is still dependent on imports and when the prices go up in the international market, the country gets affected.

“Fomca always advocates moving forward self-sufficiency so that we are not impacted by world trade or problems from other markets.

“We neglect the agriculture sector and do not beat up the demand of our modern economy. We still import beef, fish and vegetables,” he told TMR.

He said Malaysia needs to shift focus to agriculture production by maintaining a vibrant industry, not only for production purposes, but also to attract new generations.

“To make it attractive, it must be viable and (can) provide a good income. In other countries, developing sustainable agriculture is a major stake. Why can’t we do that?” he added.

He also said the Malaysia Competition Commission did a market surveillance on food and they found that along the supply chain, there is a lot of market manipulation that gets people together and manipulates prices.

While conducting the survey, “they also identified a long supply chain where the market manipulation is going on. Monopolistic behaviour makes consumers suffer”.

“Since the information is there and a survey has been done, the government should take action towards these people who take advantage of profit gearing. It should be a continuing enforcement,” he said.

Malaysian Muslim Consumers Association lead activist Datuk Nadzim Johan said the government does not really play their role to address the increasing prices of essential items.

“It is a big challenge, but we have an option actually. But we chose the wrong way. Why do we have to buy chillies from Thailand at RM26 per kg?

“Our agriculture is still lagging. Why don’t we plant those vegetables ourselves?” he told TMR.

Nadzim said the current state of Emergency needs to end immediately to tackle this issue which can lead to serious problems, such as unemployment, suicide and high debt.

“I don’t think the Emergency is necessary in the first place. What we need the most now are changes towards a better nation,” he concluded.