Anwar’s first year: Assessing monopoly reforms

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Anwar needs to do more in doing away with monopolies.

Bernama

It has been one year since Prime Minister Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim took office. He was voted in on the back of his reformist credentials, although the jury is still out if he has done enough.

A key component in any reform is the availability of options or choices, including doing away with unnecessary monopolies, especially in the economic sphere. As far as I can tell, there’s been some hits and misses on that score and there’s certainly room for improvements for the Madani administration.

In March this year, Anwar, who is also the Finance Minister, said that the Government would be reviewing all monopolies to ensure that the rakyat enjoys a fair deal. The statement has certainly set the right tone for his administration, as almost all forms of monopolies are disadvantageous to the people.

Monopolies deny consumers of choices, and allow owners to fix unreasonable prices for sub-par products and services, besides giving employers an unfair leverage over their staff when it comes to remunerations and perks. Monopolies also stifle creativity, hence they should be done away with where possible.

One of the federal government’s most striking attempts to do away with monopolies was when it directed highway operators to allow road users to pay tolls through other means besides Touch’N Go. For decades, Malaysian road users have only been able to pay tolls using cash and the Touch ‘N Go service but now they can use other options like their credit cards.

The Transport Ministry has also decided to open up vehicle inspection services to other providers once the concession with Puspakom expires next year. Minister Anthony Loke explained that this would foster a competitive vehicle inspection industry.

While these baby steps are in the right direction, the Government needs to make longer strides and faster to bust unnecessary and lop-sided monopolies in the country.

Recently, it was reported that Petros Niaga Sdn Bhd, the wholly-owned subsidiary of Petroleum Sarawak Berhad (Petros), will be made the sole distributor of LPG in Sarawak from December 1.

Rightfully, the government should encourage more competition among service providers rather than allowing only one service provider to monopolise such an essential service.

Another area of concern is the sugar industry. There have been media reports that a prominent businessman with deep ties to the Government who is also a major player in the sugar industry, is interested in buying over the market leader.

The recent sugar shortages in certain states should provide ample warning to the Government that this idea should never be entertained. We need a vibrant industry providing essential goods to the people, not lining the pockets of greedy corporations.

If the deal goes through, Malaysians will be at the mercy of a monopoly. As sugar is a key ingredient in our diet and drinks, the ramifications of one company controlling its price and supply are far-reaching and deeply disconcerting.

Still in the food and beverage industry, another development is the potential acquisition of Delivery Hero, which runs FoodPanda, by rival Grab. Both are the country’s top players in the vastly popular food delivery industry.

If the deal goes through, Malaysians will be disadvantaged by the lack of competition, just as how the 2018 merger of operations by ride-sharing providers Grab and Uber, has denied riders and drivers meaningful options.

Rightfully, the Madani administration should look into deals like those involving the sugar and food delivery industries, through the Competitions Commission (MyCC). The Prime Minister should empower MyCC to approve or reject mergers and acquisitions so that the body would have more bite.

This will send the message that the Government has zero tolerance on business deals that disadvantage the rakyat.

But all in all, I must say that the Government is on the right track as far as its intentions to break up monopolies go. It has even made some progress in this area. But Anwar needs to do more in doing away with monopolies if he is serious about instituting the much-needed economic reforms the rakyat has been thirsting for.

The views expressed here are strictly those of Razali Mohd Rahim from Bangi.