6 Nov 2020
CONSUMERS and workers are facing severe disruptions in their lives during this Covid-19 crisis. The Federation of Malaysian Consumers Associations (Fomca) hopes that Budget 2021 will address the three key issues of income, increasing costs of living, and consumer empowerment.
The most serious issue consumers face as workers is unemployment and reduction in income. According to the Social Security Organisation, 90,000 workers have lost their jobs since the crisis began.
Another study indicates that 200,000 workers in the informal sector – such as contract workers, maids and hawkers – may fall into poverty due to loss of or reduction in income. A study by a think tank indicates that more than two million may lose their jobs eventually.
Thus the government’s priority should be to facilitate a rapid economic recovery, ensure job creation to absorb both those who have lost their jobs as well as new entrants into the job market. It is estimated that at least one million well-paying jobs need to be created to do this.
For those who have lost their jobs, opportunities for training and upskilling need to be made available. For those struggling to get new jobs, the government needs to provide direct financial support for a time to ensure that they can maintain a minimum quality of life. In fact, it is high time that the government established a comprehensive social safety net to ensure that everyone is assured a minimum quality of life.
Right now, priority should also be given to increasing the allocation for the public healthcare system. The crisis has highlighted the critical importance of healthcare to the economy.
While the government has thus far managed the Covid-19 crisis rather effectively, we nevertheless strongly feel that the public healthcare system is underfunded, resulting in long waits for (non Covid-19) treatment, unavailability of beds for serious cases, long waits to see specialists, and a lack of facilities in smaller towns. The government has been allocating, on average, 2.2% of GDP to healthcare. Fomca strongly urges that the healthcare allocation should be increased to 6% of GDP to ensure a well-functioning public healthcare system.
Further, Fomca strongly urges that private healthcare pricing be regulated, as we often hear of patients being charged excessively, resulting in many middle income consumers being unable to afford private healthcare. Fomca further supports the regulation of pricing for medicines.
Other ways in which the government can assist to bring down the cost of living is through enhancing food security to ensure essential foods are available and affordable, building more affordable housing and regulating private housing projects to ensure houses built are affordable, and supporting childcare for low income families.
Finally, in facing these challenging times, consumers too need to play a role by being mindful consumers and managing their finances prudently. The government needs to invest in empowering consumers by providing financial knowledge to ensure they avoid financial problems and manage their finances responsibly.
DATUK DR PAUL SELVA RAJ
Chief Executive Officer,
Federation of Malaysian Consumers Associations (Fomca)