KUALA LUMPUR, July 16: It's the season for price hikes again as the government yesterday announced price increase for fuels, sugar and cooking gas, in a move which will likely result in a sharp reversal of perceived improving public support for Najib Razak's administration.
The move immediately set out fiery reactions against the government among opposition leaders, including a veiled chiding from the UMNO youth chief, clearly displeased with the decision.
After the Parliament ended its mid-year sittings yesterday, Najib announced the hike for five basic necessities in what he called was the government's ‘subsidy rationalisation programme’, giving it an additional RM750 million this year to spend on other sectors.
The most fiery comment came from PAS vice president, whose launched a vitriolic attack on cabinet members.
In an angry Twitter post, Mahfuz, who is also the Pokok Sena member of parliament, said the government should have brought the matter for parliamentary discussion before proceeding with its plan.
"The government is playing a fool with the people and the institution of parliament," he added.
Shah Alam MP Khalid Samad described the decision as an "ambush" and blasted his BN counterparts.
"What sort of BN government is this? They did not even respect the Parliament and the leaders elected by the people. The hike is like an ambush!
"After a month long of endless praising by BN MPs of their government with congratulatory messages - now go back to your constituency and defend the government's actions," he remarked.
The latest price increase sees sugar going up by 25sen to RM1.75 per kg; LPG up 10sen to RM1.85 per kg; the commonly used RON95 petrol now RM1.85 per litre from RM1.80 previously, while diesel being now priced at RM1.75 per litre. The higher graded RON 97 petrol will no longer be subsidised and subjected to a managed float.
Echoing Mahfuz, Batu MP Tian Chua charged that the BN government's announcement had been deliberately timed to coincide with the end of Parliamentary session so that it did not have to answer in Parliament.
Interestingly, the public backlash seems to have found an unlikely ally in UMNO youth chief Khairy Jamaludin, who warned Najib that any attempt at justifying the hikes by calling on the people's understanding would be like "scoring an own goal".
“I pray that no Pak Menteri (cabinet member) urge the public to change their lifestyle. Such statements are akin to scoring an own goal with a bicycle kick," he twitted as announcement of the price hikes made waves across the micro-blogging site.
Khairy was referring to then deputy prime minister Najib's infamous statement following a sharp fuel increase announced by prime minister Abdullah Badawi in 2005.
The latest hikes also came hot on the heels of another brewing controversy over revelation that a whopping RM4 billion was needed annually to maintain the Prime Minister's Department (JPM).
Its minister Nazri Aziz argued that this was to keep JPM operational.
“To finance XXL cabinet, oversized civil service, leakages, rakyat must sacrifice, subsidy reduced, eliminated... that way we'll be competitive. Brilliant!” quipped Dr Dzulkefly Ahmad, PAS’s Kuala Selangor MP.
Meanwhile, Selangor state exco Elizabeth Wong said the sudden decision to increase prices underlined the importance for a Freedom of Information Act in Parliament.
She said such an act, which was tabled by Selangor on Wednesday, would have allowed the public to expect such a decision and help industries plan ahead with rising operational costs.