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Monday, December 23, 2013

Putrajaya not ‘insensitive’ to public needs, PM says after ratings slide

DECEMBER 20, 2013
Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak urged Malaysians not to think the
government is ‘insensitive’ to the people’s needs by cutting back on subsidies.
— Picture by Saw Siow Feng
KUALA LUMPUR, Dec 20 ― Datuk Seri Najib Razak urged Malaysians today not to think his government “insensitive” for cutting back on subsidies, and offered his government’s pledge to do everything possible to help minimise the impact on living costs.

The prime minister, however, repeated his government’s position that the moves were necessary and even inevitable to maintain economic stability, although the public would have to bear with rising costs.

“Do not think that the government is insensitive to the people’s needs. It is difficult not to allow these rises (in toll rates and power tariffs) as, otherwise, the national economy will suffer and the people will have to bear more hardship,” he was quoted as saying by national news agency Bernama after presenting flood aid in Temerloh, Pahang.

Najib added that the government was thinking up ways to reduce the impact of the proposed rise in electricity tariffs and toll rates on the public, such as introducing peak-hour rates or a season pass at reduced rates.

“We are considering all these,” he said according to Bernama.

The news agency also reported Najib as saying that toll rates will be raised in stages and that this was necessary to ensure the country’s highways are of similar standard with those in other developed nations.

The prime minister’s remarks today appeared to mirror yesterday’s press statement from his office which defended Putrajaya’s subsidy cuts as necessary to control public spending and to retain investor confidence.

The statement, a response to the record-low dip of Najib’s approval rating, said although such susidy cuts were unpopular, they are “absolutely necessary” to continue the growth in jobs and income over the past four years.

“To keep Malaysia’s economy strong, we need to keep our public spending in check,” a spokesman from the Prime Minister's Office (PMO) said in the short statement.

“That means raising some rates and cutting some subsidies...Unlike the opposition, who promise(s) everything to everyone, the government is taking the tough decisions needed to protect Malaysia’s economy. Some measures may not be popular now but over the medium term what is good for the economy is also good for the people,” the spokesman added.

A survey by independent pollster Merdeka Center released on Wednesday showed that Najib’s popularity slid by five percentage points to hit an all-time low of 52 per cent this month.

Conducted this month and supplemented by data from June to September, the survey took place at a time when Putrajaya rolled out a fuel price hike, confirmed the long-delayed Goods and Services Tax (GST), eliminated price support for sugar, and announced an increase to power tariffs next year — all of which have angered Malaysians already struggling with the rising cost of living.

Media reports of extensive toll rate increases next year have also recently surfaced, though Works Minister Datuk Fadillah Yusof has reportedly hastened to clarify that the Cabinet has yet to finalise a decision on the matter.

Sixty-seven per cent of respondents in the Merdeka Center survey cited worsening costs and inflation as their main grouses.

But despite this, the PMO spokesman pointed out today that international institutions, investors and agencies approve of Putrajaya’s “responsible” approach in managing the country’s finances.

“In the short term, the government is providing extra help to those who need it most. From Monday, some 7.9 million recipients in households earning under RM4,000 per month can apply for new BR1M (1 Malaysia People’s Aid) payments.

“We are opening new 1Malaysia shops, to help with the cost of daily goods, and new 1Malaysia (clinics) to provide affordable healthcare,” added the spokesman.

In the Merdeka Center survey, Najib lost popularity across all ethnic communities, but was hardest hit among the Indians, for whom his approval fell from 76 per cent to 57 per cent now.

The PM’s approval rating also slid further among the Chinese community, coming in at 21 per cent after a loss of 15 percentage points.

More from the Malay community also joined in the disapproval, with Najib getting the nod from 66 per cent of the group, down from 73 per cent previously.

Najib’s approval ratings were at 57 per cent when an earlier poll was conducted just after the May general election.

The prime minister’s ratings later rose up to 62 per cent, but tumbled in the latest survey.

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