KOTA KINABALU: The government’s plan to set up the Economic Action Council (EAC) is timely but it must also develop a long-term strategy since global economic uncertainties will continue to impact the country, says social activist Tan Sri Lee Lam Thye.
Lee said the EAC must also help the country develop strategies to face mega trends such as the shift from geo-politics to geo-economics, the shift in global gravity from the west to the east, fourth industrial revolution, climate change, ageing society, e-commerce and urbanisation.
“The Brexit issue and the United States-China trade war for instance, will affect our economy and we must know how to strategise and maintain economic and trade diplomacy with our trading partners,“ he said in a statement today.
The establishment of the EAC, chaired by Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad, was announced on Monday. The 16 member council consists of current and former Cabinet ministers, economists, businessmen, experts and representatives from non-government organisations.
Lee said he hoped the EAC would consult representatives of consumer and non-governmental organisations besides those from the private sector as they may share the same problems that were being faced by the people on the ground.
He said this would enable the government to expand its social safety net programmes to cover more Malaysians who were in need and not just limited to B40, and the assistance should be given to both the low and middle income groups, known as the B40 and M40, who are mostly affected by the economic slowdown.
“Various surveys, done before the 2019 Budget was tabled last year, revealed that Malaysians were mainly preoccupied with just making ends meet and expected the government to introduce lower taxes and more subsidies. They also expect affordable housing for the people,“ he said.
To help the M40 and B40 groups, Lee said, the government must address issues affecting the people particularly the increase in food prices.
Efforts to tackle the price increase must involve all parties in the supply chain – from producers and suppliers to wholesalers and retailers.
These measures must be comprehensive so that the government can control price increase throughout the supply chain through intervention and enforcement, he added.
“Malaysians, including those from the M40 group, are also concerned about unaffordable property and expensive healthcare.
“”Rising cost of living has made it very challenging for the M40 members to buy their dream houses and therefore, they need some form of assistance.
“More should also be done for the M40 group, particularly in the area of health. Among others, the government should provide better health benefits as more M40 members, including senior citizens and pensioners, are expected to live on their own when our country moves towards becoming a developed nation,“ he added.
Lee also said the government should also extend its health insurance scheme to the M40 group since the national insurance penetration rate was still low while up to 90% of Malaysians who were covered by insurance, were underinsured.
He said the EAC must also consider the local context when finding solutions for the problems affecting the M40 group, taking into account different income thresholds in different states.
Khazanah Research Institute’s report showed there were huge disparities in the income threshold of the M40 in the various states across Malaysia although the average national household income for the M40 was between RM4,360 and RM9,619 a month, based on the 2016 household income distribution data, he said. — Bernama