I recently returned to my home state, Kelantan. Besides visiting, it was also to check on the political temperature there. It is always good to return home — I get to savour the original nasi dagang, my favourite breakfast. I have yet to find an authentic nasi dagang stall in Kuala Lumpur although I have lived in the city for more than 40 years.
In Kelantan, I attended several campaign talks. It is normal to see decent crowds at such talks. The atmosphere was intense. I listened to both sides of the political divide. As an academic, I believe we have to be objective and balanced in our assessment.
But, I was taken aback when, at one of the sessions, a lawyer spoke, without weighing the facts. He questioned the government’s move to invest in the East Coast Rail Line (ECRL) project. He said the ECRL was not what the people in the east coast states had asked for. He said what the people wanted was the revival of the fuel subsidy, abolishment of the Goods and Services Tax (GST) and more jobs.
This is where I think the people are misled. We all know that continuing to subsidise fuel is not in the long-term interest of the country. The cost is exorbitant, and cheap fuel encourages wastage.
Past experiences have shown blatant abuse of the subsidy by certain parties. The subsidy does not benefit the target groups. That was why the subsidy was replaced by targeted payments to those who needed the aid. Even such targeted subsidy should not be implemented on a long-term basis.
A more viable measure is to implement programmes to raise the income and purchasing power of the groups in question, not to continue promoting the subsidy mentality.
As for GST, the fuss is unnecessary. GST is the most efficient way to collect taxes. In fact with GST, more taxes are collected from the richer segments of the population. Yes, there is some impact on the prices of goods. Again, this is only temporary as we move towards a high-income nation.
And, the government has created initiatives to cushion the cost burden. Abolishing GST is not an option.
The arguments against the ECRL are misplaced.
The ECRL will lead to more job creation, not only during the construction phases, but also when the project is completed. Investing in such an infrastructure is what I call long-term thinking by the government.
Remember the highways? When the idea was mooted, there were objections. After all these years, see what the highways have done to achieve the nation’s economic agenda. Imagine a situation where we do not have highways.
The ECRL can do more than that since rail is not only more efficient, it is also good for the environment and the agenda
to reduce greenhouse gas emission.
As global citizens, we want to contribute to the international fight against climate change.
PROF DATUK DR AHMAD IBRAHIM
Fellow, Academy of Sciences Malaysia, UCSI University