By Raveen Jeyakumar
During this period of financial and socioeconomic hardship endured by the people, the government has to take immediate holistic measures to raise the living standards of the ordinary people, especially the low-income group.
However, one of the main, longstanding excuses given is that the government lacks funds to finance such pro-people programmes.
To overcome this constraint, the government should crack down on corrupt practices, including bribery, cronyism, nepotism, misappropriation of funds and fraud.
The government also needs to tactfully and gradually raise taxes on the wealthy. This must be done collectively with other Asean nations to deter the wealthy from pulling out their investments and assets to avoid paying those higher taxes.
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The government should also cease providing subsidies like fuel subsidies to the top 20% of households.
Instead, it should prioritise funds for pro-people projects over other types of projects.
Such measures will surely increase government revenue, which can then be spent on programmes to raise the people’s living standards.
When living standards rise, ordinary people will then be in a stronger financial position to spend more in their daily lives, thus strengthening the local economy and businesses. People’s support for the government will grow.
Here are three measures the government should implement immediately.
- Introduce an automatic old age pension scheme
According to a study by the Asian Strategy & Leadership Institute, most households in Malaysia have zero savings. Almost 90% of working Malaysians earn less than RM5,000 a month, and only half of them are active contributors to the Employees Provident Fund.
About 80% of the workforce will not have enough money at retirement to sustain themselves. Many contract civil servants are also not eligible for pension.
What’s more, Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim revealed that 81% of EPF contributors will not have enough savings to live above the poverty line after they retire. As of December 2022, only 19% EPF contributors reached the basic savings level based on their age to enable them to have RM240,000 in savings by 55.
Over half (56%) of those entitled to withdraw their EPF savings fully in a year – those who are now aged 54 – have RM50,000 or less in the retirement fund. “RM50,000 will only provide a retirement income of about RM208 a month for 20 years,” Anwar pointed out.
Given the severity of many workers’ financial position, the government must immediately implement a new pension scheme, along the lines of what the Socialist Party of Malaysia (PSM) has been campaigning for. This scheme should pay RM500 monthly to all low and middle-income retirees above 65 who are not protected by any other government or private pension scheme.
This should be done automatically without the retirees having to apply. This would be unlike the current Bantuan Warga Emas (financial aid for senior citizens), which is only provided upon application to those who meet certain criteria and is not permanent.
This automatic pension scheme can effectively help raise the living standards for these groups of people, besides reducing the financial burden on their children and families.
Given that Malaysia is an ageing nation, the government should quickly implement such a pension scheme to help older folk avoid poverty.
2. Local councils should take over management and upkeep of low-income flats
The government should plan and enforce a policy mandating local councils to take over the management and upkeep of low-cost flats immediately.
This policy will require allocations from the federal government to assist the local councils. It will raise the living standards of the inhabitants of such flats throughout the country.
At present, conditions at many low-income flats throughout the country are deplorable because management committees cannot collect enough maintenance fees to keep the premises clean, repair broken lifts and pay electricity bills for the lighting of common areas.
As a result, many low-income flats are unpleasant and unsafe for their occupants. Conditions are especially detrimental to the children and youth who live in these flats.
If this policy is implemented, local governments will be able to tackle serious, longstanding problems and improve the poor conditions in hundreds of low-income flats throughout the country.
3. Strengthen programmes to uplift the rural poor
The government needs to strengthen and improve programmes for the development, maintenance and upgrading of public facilities and housing for rural residents.
It must strictly ensure that the Ministry of Rural Development’s deployment of funds through district offices for such programmes is carried out responsibly and transparently. The aim would be to prevent corrupt practices such as pilfering, cronyism and nepotism.
The end products of such projects must be of quality. All allocations and specifications for each of the approved projects must be displayed on an online database. In this way, target communities can easily access the data to monitor how the funds are spent and they will then be able to hold the parties involved accountable.
The priority of any government should always be to uplift the living standards of ordinary people, especially the low-income group. During these difficult times, the need to improve people’s living standards in Malaysia is critical.
The Malaysian government should therefore implement these measures to raise the people’s living standards and ensure their long-term wellbeing and prosperity.
Raveen Jeyakumar, an Aliran volunteer, is a 29-year-old based in Ipoh with an interest in social and environmental issues