THE perception of whether the economy was doing well or not became the subject of debate between Finance Minister II Johari Abdul Ghani (Titiwangsa-BN) and Shah Alam MP Khalid Samad (Shah Alam-Amanah) today.
“Is it still a perception issue (that the economic growth has not filtered to all Malaysians), if the government has to introduce so many initiatives to help alleviate the burden of cost of living from the people?” asked Khalid during the question-and-answer session in Dewan Rakyat today.
Khalid said the government’s actions of giving out cash aid did not address the real problems as the poor were suffering from a tax system that did not distinguish between the poor and the rich.
“Yes, there is GDP growth but it does not benefit everyone. It only benefits certain sectors,” said Khalid.
Earlier, Johari had listed the measures the government had introduced to help alleviate the cost of living of Malaysians, including BR1M handouts, fuel subsidies for fishermen and retraining initiatives, to Mersing MP Abd Latiff Ahmad (BN).
Johari said the slower growth in the retail sector did not tell the whole story as it did not take into account other factors.
“The retail sector is not based on sales alone. In 2016, there were 60,000 retailers but in 2017 there were 73,000. This has caused them to cannibalise into each others’ markets, hence less sales.
“Additionally, the increase in the number of malls and online sales (2017: RM73 billion) have also eaten into the retail sector’s market,” said Johari.
He said other factors that point to an improving economy include higher spending by Malaysians when they go abroad and the number of jobs created.
“From 2015-2017, 1.1 million jobs were added (according to the Department of Statistics). Another is the spending by Malaysians who go abroad, which has grown from RM41 billion in 2015 to RM46 billion in 2016 and 2017.”
Khalid said it still did not explain why the government insisted that the economy was good when the cost of goods have increased, citing ikan kembung (Indian mackerel) as an example.
“The government has many subsidies for fishermen to catch fish such as fuel. But sometimes they don’t catch enough because of the monsoon. But the opposition blames the government for this. We can farm other fish here but we can’t do it with ikan kembung.
“I think he wants us to manufacture ikan kembung,” Johari quipped.
The minister also said the government was expected to earn a higher income in 2018 due to higher oil prices.
He said Budget 2018 had used US$52 (RM203) per barrel as an indication but the price so far is averaging at US$67 per barrel.
“For every US$1 increase in oil prices, the government stands to earn around RM300 million more.
“So, if the prices hold for the rest of the year at US$67, we should earn another RM4.5 billion,” said Johari, while answering Permatang Pauh MP Dr Wan Azizah Wan Ismail’s (PKR) question this morning.