Hidden costs of 3-in-1 populist Raya package

Among the three, providing discounts for summonses is irrational: chronic defaulters are “rewarded” with huge discounts while law-abiding motorists remain out of pocket.

(FMT) – A three-in-one populist “Aidilfitri package” announced by Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim recently got a huge number of hits, likes and shares on social media.

It was hardly surprising because it involved the three things that Malaysians love most – an additional public holiday, huge discounts for unpaid summonses and a toll holiday on highways.

Analysts say it is an obvious move to win over voters in the coming elections in six states and that giving all three benefits at one go is obviously tied to the state elections.

To be fair, these freebies have been offered by previous governments too but the three-in-one by the unity government was the first.

There is a cost to these initiatives. For example, the government has to fork out RM98 million to compensate the highway concessionaires this time for four toll-free days. The additional holiday causes production disruption and loss of revenue for many businesses; such costs will inevitably be passed on to the consumer.

The tax holiday and discount on summonses is said to be part of the government’s Rahmah initiative which is meant to help the hardcore poor and lower-income groups who have been burdened with the rising cost of living. But since it’s a blanket offer, even millionaires stand to benefit.

As far as the government is concerned, everyone irrespective of their income status is a voter, so it benefits. And knowing Malaysians, they just love getting free rides or lunches even if they could afford it. Several policies over the decades have led to this culture among Malaysians.

Coming to discounts, something that every government in power announces frequently, a flat RM50 payment will be collected for each summons as a final settlement. This too was not a targeted move, meaning defaulters who own luxury cars and who can easily afford the payment will also enjoy this benefit.

But what beats me is the fact that hardcore defaulters are being rewarded while the law-abiding citizens who promptly settle their traffic or other summonses are being “punished”. To many, this appears to be a perverse logic perpetrated by all the governments that have been in power.

This has reached a point where motorists have openly said they will not settle the summonses within the stipulated period as there will come a time when discounts will be offered. The defaulters not only make this a joke but mock the government about its predictability.

Those who settle theirs early vented their frustration on social media, saying they too will wait for discounts in future. Obviously, the government would lose millions by this offer. Does this offer not encourage defaulters to continue ignoring their summonses until discounts are announced?

The government is persistently holding on to something that is very wrong. I know of defaulters who have outstanding summonses as old as 10 years. The flat RM50 seems to be the best ever as there used to be 50% discounts in the past.

What is the point of installing expensive speed traps and having police checks if offenders are not punished but given a “reward” of a reduced fine after breaking the law? I suppose the government’s bottom line is it will win some goodwill and votes in the process.

Talking about extra holidays, this is a benefit which Malaysians of all ages enjoy with great relish. With the government having declared additional holidays for frivolous things in the past such as winning insignificant football titles, most Malaysians just wait for more days off. Reports about public holidays are always among the most read on news sites.

Many business leaders have cautioned the government against declaring extra public holidays unnecessarily because extra expenses in salaries and associated costs will be incurred.

Small and Medium Enterprises Association (Samenta) chairman William Ng said that while employers generally encouraged their staff to enjoy the festivities, extra compulsory public holidays were unnecessary.

Under the law, businesses must close on 11 of the 18 federal public holidays; however, staff must be paid double for working on any public holiday.

Ng said Malaysia is among the countries which have the greatest number of public holidays in the world. This year the 18 federal public holidays produced 11 extra days off because of long weekends with state holidays observed separately within the 14 states and federal territories.

He said that in discussions with investors, a private joke is that employers hoped Malaysia would not win football matches as it was likely to mean another extra paid public holiday.

SME Association of Malaysia secretary-general Chin Chee Seong said businesses should be given more advance notice when additional public holidays are declared.

Obviously, no government will dare take the right step to discontinue these populist moves although these are only short-term gains that are creating a culture whereby Malaysians just wait for such offers and holidays.

Looks like it’s only the vote that matters at the end of the day, and that’s not about to change.