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Tuesday, January 7, 2014

GST to toll hike, will hell break loose?

| January 7, 2014

What options are available to the opposition to counter price hikes that have plagued the nation?

How will the opposition handle the current rise in utilities, toll and other products coupled with the arbitrary imposition of the GST?

The options are on the table: massive rallies, negotiations with the Najib Tun Razak’s regime or an all new stratagem that will force the roll-back of the savage increases.

While the opposition does not have any other options but to fight back in an attempt to remain relevant and to be seen contributing to the alleviation of the hardship faced by the people, the powerful Barisan National (BN) seems to have grown even more adamant – risking isolation and a dearth of support in the process.

And perhaps the answer to the problem faced by the opposition groups, taking into consideration those under the Pakatan Rakyat (PR) banner as well as those under different umbrella’s of defiance against the government, resides in the complete isolation of the BN rather than an outright confrontation.

In the current scenario of the local political scene in Malaysia, the BN and Umno seem to be living on a distant fantasy island, cut off from the realities of the daily lives of the people.

Circulating on free messaging services, including WhatsApp and Viber, are the purported increase demanded by toll operators. The figures show a possible rise of between 50 sen to RM2, thus putting the Klang Valley car owners in a fix.

In some cases, the rise will mean car owners would have to fork out RM8 on a two way traffic passing the toll twice a day, provided there is no emergency that would force the drivers to pass the toll gates more than twice a day.

Suggestions were made by some quarters that car owners should avoid toll roads. But with the massive crawls on toll free roads and jams caused by the Malaysian drivers, it may not be practical to do so.

Malaysian drivers love to stop and peek at accidents for no reasons thus the jam more often than not.

Nevertheless, there is a good reason why the BN and Umno chieftains are gunning high for the price hikes. Besides punishing those that turned their backs – almost completely- against them, there is a need to recover the money spent during the most expensive and ridiculous general election in Malaysian history.

When collections are made, the government coffers are filled and so are the pockets of the big players, which include toll operators, electricity and other utility providers and cronies.

There were also suggestions by some quarters that road users who pay toll by cash should refuse to pay at the gates. Nevertheless this will mean enduring massive jams which may result in drivers cursing and honking at one another; though they may not realise that you are fighting for them.

Generate our own electricity

By large Malaysians are not matured enough to descend into an ‘occupy toll’ or ‘defy GST’ movements. And neither will they defy using electricity provided by the government controlled cronies and instead use alternatives that exist.

One could turn into independent power producers (IPP) or small renewable energy power producers (Srep) themselves.

For example, Alliance Bank and Bank Muamalat – not promoting the crony banks indeed – are offering soft Islamic loans that allows consumers to install solar panels on their homes (limited to terrace houses).

The plan is for the users to make money out of this deal by selling the extra units of electricity produced to the crony run electricity providers.

In its fight against the increases, the opposition should encourage the people of Selangor, in a bid to defeat the government’s arbitrary electricity price hike, to become IPPs and Sreps.

Campaigns by PR and non-government organisations (NGOs) will help the people understand the alternatives. The opposition groups can also seek funds for the NGOs to enter the fray of IPP’s and Sreps and assist the people with soft loans with low interest rates.

This should be the job carried out by the Selangor state government, which would then be investing in the future while opposing the rudeness of BN’s ego-centrism.

As for the toll roads, the most efficient way to protest would probably be the complete isolation of BN.

Let voters keep the deep grudge in their hearts, and vent their anger during the GE14.

That means, PR and other opposition groups would take a rain check on the demonstrations on these increases; until the time is ripe for a show of force.

It should build-up with smaller rallies all around the country with the support of public opinion.

Cordoba Ali is a writer and a political analyst

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