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Tuesday, January 19, 2010

One rate for whole economy is better


SOMETIMES I wonder how the Malaysian market economy is being managed. I am referring to your news report “Fuel Cap” (Sunday Star, Jan 17). My issue is not on how the fuel subsidy should be managed. My issue is should we have this kind of multi-sector and multi-categorisation subsidy system in the first place.

We know for a fact the Malaysian economy has been distorted and dissected into numerous groups and sectors already. Each distortion and categorisation has created more controversy, inefficiency and avenues for corruption. How we could have managed a market economy with total disregard for basic market principles is simply beyond my comprehension.

Malaysia is one principal customs area. If there is any subsidy or taxation, the rate should be uniformly applied throughout the whole economy.

To dissect, to discriminate, and to categorise into different groups or sectors for subsidy entitlement or taxation burden could only result in more hardship, unfairness, inefficiency, arbitrage and corruption especially by those administering such schemes.

We have fleet cards, subsidies for taxies, buses and boats for fishermen. As if this is not complicated enough, now we want to dissect passenger cars into different categories. We spent hundreds of millions in subsidy on fishermen. Did the amount of fish landed really increase?

How much of the petrol and diesel were really used by fishermen to catch fish? Did the subsidised fuel really translate into lower prices of fish in the market?

How much of the fish we consume were supplied by foreign fishermen who enjoyed no subsides from us?

When a subsidy is given, we can’t guarantee complete fairness. Sure, the rich and the wealthy may have gained more from the subsidy, but they have also contributed more in the form of higher taxes?

When they buy a vehicle, the extra taxes (in the form of sales tax, excise duty, and annual road tax) they pay is probably many times more than the extra fuel subsidy they enjoy. What fairness can we extract from them further? Don’t forget they have also paid higher income taxes.

In managing a market economy, we must allow capitalism and market mechanism to work.

We may tinker a little here and there to make it less painful for some but the objective is not really to achieve complete parity or equality.

Didn’t the communists try to do that but we know the result was disastrous for everybody?

They tried to make equality their priority, but the policies made almost everybody equally poor and today communism is history.

A market economy, albeit with limited government intervention, has made people unevenly rich, which is better than making everybody poor.

To minimise distortions and to enhance efficiency, the Government must first decide whether to subsidise or not to subsidise the fuel.

If the decision is to subsidise, it is better to have just one rate for the whole economy. Multiple subsidised rates for different sectors or different groups of citizens only cause high administrative cost, profiteering, inefficiency, corruption and arbitrage.

T.K. CHUA,
Kuala Lumpur.

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