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Discrimination in public transport fares – is this necessary?

Is discrimination so ingrained in the Malaysian make-up to the extent we have become penny-pinching misers?

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By Rakyat Jelata

It is disturbing that the existence of discrimination within Malaysian society extends even to the fares for public transport, which rightly should benefit all residents of the country.

Public transport fares should not have any inbuilt discrimination, such as the impositions of payments on foreigners (whatever their status) while giving Malaysian citizens (ie blue identity card holders) free rides on certain urban buses and Penang passenger ferries.

The justification used by many, including our elected representatives (who should know better), is that such discrimination is practised in other countries in the world.

However, having travelled to several countries (apart from those in the Americas and Africa), I, as a foreign visitor, have never paid a different public transport fare on any public transport I’ve used in these countries.

It is understandable if countries put restrictions on the kinds of jobs a foreign migrant may take up within their borders, giving priority to their own citizens.

Or if they favour their own citizens in social welfare benefits, tax rebates, education fees, property ownership and any larger government social security schemes. After all, their citizens contribute economically and socially to the country’s wealth and general progress and development over a much longer period.

In Malaysia, we have the Employees Provident Fund (EPF) retirement savings to which employees and employers contribute, and foreign workers may elect to do so as well.

Employers who hire foreign workers also register their employees with the Social Security Organisation (Socso) and make contributions to the Employment Insurance Scheme.

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Foreign employees paid under local salary schemes also pay income tax to the Malaysian Inland Revenue Department.

Apart from these taxes imposed on foreigners working in Malaysia, the Malaysian public, foreign employees, local and foreign tourists and others, including undocumented migrants and refugees, pay sales and service taxes every time they buy a range of goods and services.

Foreign patients using public medical facilities are also charged higher fees (over 100% more) than local patients. Foreigners, regardless of status, are sometimes overcharged for many things, legally or illegally, by local businesses, even for basic necessities, including medication bought at some local pharmacies.

In view of these higher living costs that foreigners incur, is it necessary to penny-pinch on public transport fares that benefit all, especially when we depend to some extent on foreign visitors, medical tourism, immigration visa fees and foreign investments, and benefit from these foreigners in various ways?

Is discrimination so ingrained in the Malaysian make-up to the extent we have become penny-pinching misers? What are we ‘protecting’ ourselves from?

Malaysia is no more in the company of the economic tigers of Southeast Asia like Singapore, Vietnam, Indonesia and Thailand. We have curtailed our own progress and development with an apartheid-like system that may be passed on to future generations to their detriment.

Should we stick in the mud, like a trapped buffalo, while others move on to greener pastures?

No foreigner should be targeted for extra ‘taxation’ or higher prices, fares or fees for essential services or basic necessities, simply on the basis of their nationality or ethnicity; this is a travesty of their basic human rights and human dignity.

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Rakyat Jelata is the pseudonym of an Aliran reader

The views expressed in Aliran's media statements and the NGO statements we have endorsed reflect Aliran's official stand. Views and opinions expressed in other pieces published here do not necessarily reflect Aliran's official position.

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