COMMENT | This morning, my fantastic multiracial DAP Batu Kitang team and I were having a walkabout to distribute nearly 400 packets of free face masks in view of the "mandatory masking in public places" policy that came into force from Aug 1 to Aug 14.
The free face masks were distributed to the local hawkers and patrons at the 3rd Mile Maong bazaar which is situated within the Batu Kitang state constituency. Apart from that, we also distributed 400 Covid-19 leaflets and DAP flyers to keep raising public awareness about the pandemic.
With the mandatory use of face masks in public places, I’ve received a lot of complaints among the local hawkers and bazaar patrons that the government did not take necessary action to lower the price ceiling for face masks.
Many said that at least Pakatan Harapan, through the Ministry of Domestic Trade and Consumer Affairs (KPDNHEP), managed to lower the price ceiling for three-ply face masks.
When Harapan was still in the government, the price ceiling for three-ply face masks was only RM0.80 per piece (retail price). That time, KPDNHEP was led by Saifuddin Nasution Ismail and Chong Chieng Jen.
Unfortunately, when the Harapan government collapsed and was taken over by GPS, PAS, Umno, and Bersatu, the price ceiling for three-ply face masks had increased to RM1.50. That itself was a mistake.
Although, when the new minister (from Sarawak) recently announced in Parliament that the price ceiling will be lowered to RM1.20 per piece with effect from Aug 15, the proposed price ceiling is still too high and not affordable to many. This is because the proposed price ceiling is 50 percent higher than when Harapan was the government.
The high price ceiling will expose consumers to exploitation by traders, especially given how the government has made it mandatory to use face masks in public places now.
Let’s make a simple calculation. Imagine a family of six, both working husband and wife and four school-going children. If they have to spend at least RM1.50 per piece of face mask per day for each family member, that would be a total of RM9 per day.
If in a month, they need to go out at least six times a week, that would be about 24 days a month. That adds up to RM216 per month of additional household expenses.
To the majority of Sarawakians earning a below-average income and who fall under the B40 category, that is undoubtedly a heavy burden. What more for those who are living paycheque-to-paycheque.
This is definitely a heavy burden to low-income families. In a worse scenario, if they fail to comply, they will be imposed with a RM1,000 fine per person.
Since June, the global supply of facemasks has adjusted sufficiently to cater to increasing demand due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Now, the costs for production of facemasks have normalised to pre-Covid times, and the previous price ceiling of RM0.80 per piece of three-ply facemasks can give traders very comfortable profit margins to operate.
Even though the costs of production for facemasks have lowered tremendously to pre-Covid-19 times, with the government setting the price ceiling of RM1.20 per piece, it gives the impression that RM1.20 is a reasonable retail price notwithstanding the huge profit margin at this price. This price ceiling is detrimental to the interest of consumers in general.
We continue to take note of the concerns raised and will do our best for the betterment of Sarawakians.
ABDUL AZIZ ISA is special assistant to Stampin MP Chong Chieng Jen.
The views expressed here are those of the author/contributor and do not necessarily represent the views of Malaysiakini.