The frustration of Opposition Leader Anwar Ibrahim and his cohort at being denied the right to debate the issue of the spiralling prices of food and other essential items in Parliament is well understood and appreciated by Malaysians.
Despite protests from opposition MPs, Deputy Speaker Mohd Rashid Hasnon insisted the issue be debated in the special chamber instead.
This issue has seen an outpouring of public anger and angst on social media and in flash mobs staged by ordinary people, particularly the vulnerable, who bear the weight of inflated prices.
It is appalling that this hot-button issue has been relegated to the special chamber, where it will only be debated by a small group of MPs as opposed to all of them in the urgent search for solutions.
This implies that this issue does not merit the concern and action of all the people’s representatives, irrespective of their political persuasion. Not only that, it is likely that only Domestic Trade and Consumer Affairs Minister Alexander Nanta Linggi will be involved in the special chamber debate.
The problem of the high prices of basic items requires a holistic approach if we are to aim for a long-term solution, which was why, as rightly pointed out by Anwar, the discussion required the participation of the finance, economic affairs, and agriculture and food industries ministries.
To reiterate, the gravity of this issue calls for an all-party endeavour. Indeed, two heads (or more) are better than one.
One would think that it is in this august house that measures to be taken by the government should be properly scrutinised so that the grievances of consumers and other stakeholders are adequately and appropriately addressed.
For instance, the Domestic Trade and Consumer Affairs Ministry is scheduled to launch a twice-monthly “Malaysian family” sale offering basic goods at prices 15-20% lower than market rates in all 222 parliamentary constituencies.
A few questions could be raised in the Dewan Rakyat regarding the ministry’s plan. For example, how long would this stop-gap measure be implemented as basic food items cannot be sold like a periodic gala cheap sale in shopping malls. These food items are the daily basic necessities of the people.
What is also required is a robust examination of the issue to unearth the root causes of the inflated prices.
For one thing, the discussion may touch on the fact that local food production is insufficient to meet domestic demand. In the interest of our food security, the level of food self-sufficiency would need to be raised so that we can reduce our food imports.
Perhaps government assistance needs to be given to farmers and others to increase local food production.
A glimpse of the situation we are in: total imports of foodstuffs in 2019 amounted to RM51.4bn compared with RM50.14bn in 2018.
Another factor that may need the MPs’ attention is the role played by middlemen that results in rising food prices.
There are, of course, other factors that MPs should urgently discuss.
Parliament is obviously the right place for such a debate. – The Malaysian Insight