As Good as an Admission of Govt Profiteering from the People in Times of Covid-19 Crisis

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Muhyiddin says now giving free masks bought at only RM1.18.

Some ignorant people say even at RM2 for a piece of face mask, the proposed 150% price hike by the Domestic Trade and Consumer Affairs Ministry was still cheaper than other countries. Perhaps they should explain why a Honda Accord costs only US$26,000 in the US while the same car would cost you an arm and a leg in Malaysia – RM185,000.

China is a wizard in the global manufacturing sector. In fact, China is the world’s manufacturing superpower. The country now makes 200 million face masks a day – more than 20 times the amount it made at the start of February when it was seriously hit with the Coronavirus outbreak. Therefore, the price can actually fluctuate beyond imagination.

Hasnoor Hussain/TMI

Hence, it was seen as a daylight robbery when the Muhyiddin government suddenly announced the price of three-layer or three-ply face mask will be increased to RM2 from RM0.80 a pop – a whopping 150% jump. Domestic Trade and Consumer Affairs Minister Alexander Nanta Linggi claimed that the price of face masks needed to be increased due to higher cost of production materials.

However, the previous government Pakatan Harapan (PH) had revealed that in their previous discussions with local manufacturers to boost the stocks to ensure sufficient supply of masks within the country, the government was supposed to purchase the face mask at only RM0.60 a piece. So far, the incompetent backdoor government of Muhyddin has neither denied nor rubbished the PH’s claims.

That was in essence an admission that the local manufacturers had indeed agreed to sell the three-layer face mask at RM0.60 to the then-Pakatan Harapan government, which has since collapsed after Muhyiddin’s recent coup. And on March 23, coming from the horse’s mouth, the prime minister announced that the government will purchase and give away face masks to all Malaysians – FOC.

Yes, after three weeks of insisting – like a broken record – that the country had sufficient face masks for everyone, PM Muhyiddin now indirectly admits for the first time that he had been lying after all. He said – “I have agreed and would like to announce that when it (face mask) reaches (Malaysia), we will distribute it for free to all Malaysians who need it. This is the contribution of the government during times of crisis.”

Kamal Ariffin/TMI

More importantly, the clueless prime minister, whose leadership is being questioned, has revealed that the masks will be purchased at around RM1.18 per piece. The cost of purchase will be absorbed by the government. Malay Mail reported that instructions have been given to the National Disaster Management Agency (NADMA) to expedite the order and shipment.

The revelation was as good as an admission that his government had unethically and shamelessly tried to profit from the ordinary people in times of Coronavirus pandemic. Even at RM1.18 a piece, the profit margin is close to 70% if the ceiling price of RM2 is enforced. Interestingly, the prime minister only gives away the candies after the proposed price hike triggered heavy criticism.

Had the people kept quiet despite the 150% price hike, chances are the corrupt Perikatan Nasional government would have proceeded in fleecing the people. Of course, giving away free masks now is nothing but an attempt to pacify angry folks, as well as to score some political brownie points after questions have been consistently raised as to why neighbouring Singapore can give free masks but not Malaysia.

However, this new order is reportedly different from the 10-million face masks to be imported from China, which Transport Minister Wee Ka Siong had shamelessly taken credit after he claimed it was he who had recommended to PM Muhyiddin for the abolishment of the 20% import duty and 10% sales tax of the masks. The tax breaks were negotiated during the previous PH administration.

It’s believed that the 10-million imported face masks will be “parked” under Pharmaniaga, who is not only the sole concessionaire holder but also acts as a middleman of drugs and medical supply to public hospitals in the country. Pharmaniaga Bhd Group managing director Farshila Emran said on Monday (March 23) that it would not be able to spare any of the 10-million face masks for the public.

Syarafiq Abd Samad/NST

The statement from Pharmaniaga’s boss was not only arrogant but also irresponsible and short-sighted in the times of hardship when the people are left defenceless – they can’t buy any mask even at the inflated price of RM2 a piece. While 10-million face masks might not sound a lot, it actually translates to one third (30%) of Malaysia’s 32-million populations.

Hence, it sparks a burning question – why can’t the incompetent Muhyiddin government order Pharmaniaga to allocate, say five million face masks, to be distributed free to the public first while waiting for the new shipment of 10 million masks to arrive, after which the five million distributed masks can be reimbursed back into the inventory? Why can’t the masks be efficiently distributed?

Surely five million face masks are sufficient for medical frontliners in the immediate short term. The public is equally vulnerable, and they are not pariah. Pharmaniaga MD Farshila claimed that the company had no intention to sell the masks but to distribute them as part of their corporate social responsibility. The company also boasted that they don’t take advantage of the pandemic to make money.

If that’s true, why can’t the company be flexible in the distribution of the face masks to protect both medical frontliners and the public at the same time – parallel multitasking? Regardless, Muhyiddin Yassin must explain why the Domestic Trade and Consumer Affairs Ministry was allowed to raise the price of face mask to RM2 when the commodity could be imported for just RM1.18 a piece. – Finance Twitter