If you have a refrigerator running 24 hours daily at home you can forget about enjoying the RM20 electricity monthly exemption.
A source in Sesco, when asked what kind of household uses less than RM20 in electricity monthly, said: “Most probably one that uses a few bulbs for lighting and has a tiny TV.”
The Borneo Post posed that question after receiving mixed reaction to the move with some describing it as “a bit illogical”.
Government officials and ministers had defended the move, insisting that it was aimed at helping the poor. But most laymen felt the move unreasonable, saying it would only benefit those from the very hardcore poor as well as owners of unoccupied houses.
The exemption should have included a wider section of the Malaysian society, many said.
They felt that if the amount had been RM50 instead of RM20, many would be encouraged to use less power in order to enjoy the privilege.
But Santubong MP Datuk Wan Junaidi Tuanku Jaafar said the budget tabled by Prime Minister Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi last Friday was not the end of the matter because it was just a proposal.
Junaidi, who is Parliament Deputy Speaker, told The Borneo Post yesterday that if people felt that figures and facts were illogical or unreasonable, the MPs would be debating them, especially during the question-and-answer time.
He said another parliament session will start on Sept 13 and it may last for at least 15 days.
“Only after parliament debate would we know whether the RM20 figure will be revised upward or not. So if the figure appears to be illogical or unreasonable, the government must be ready with its response,” he explained.
He assured: “Wait until the budget (debate) is over. As it is a matter of policy, the figure may be increased if found to be illogical. The MPs will surely talk strongly about it in the parliament.”
He said personally he believed not many people would be enjoying the benefit of the exemption.
“I am not certain who the target group is. Maybe the very hardcore poor will enjoy it. But certainly they do not have TV, Astro or refrigerator.
“Things will be clearer after the parliament session. The figure may be adjusted or increased.
“The RM20 may be a little bit too little. How many people will be entitled to the exemption when most have bills of over RM20? Although the measure is very noble but will it connect the proper target?
“Have they done enough research? As far as I know, the PM had a dialogue with more than 20 stakeholders who may have advised him on the matter. I do not know if they had advised him correctly on the figure,” Junaidi said.
When told that the measure would benefit about 1.1 million households, Junaidi said the measure might have been drawn up out of ignorance since most people, especially politicians, are in the middle class group.
When tabling the National Budget 2009 last Friday, Abdullah said: “As part of the government’s effort to further reduce the financial burden of the lower income group, households which incur monthly electricity bills of RM20 or less, will not have to pay for electricity for the period from Oct 1, 2008 to the end of 2009.”
“The government will bear the cost of such bills, amounting to RM170 million for the period. A total of 1.1 million households will benefit from this measure,” said Abdullah, who is Finance Minister.
The government has, through various measures, successfully reduced the incidence of poverty from 5.7 per cent in 2004 to 3.6 per cent in 2007.
The number of hardcore poor households has declined by 43 per cent from 67,300 in 2004 to 38,400 in 2007.
The government is confident that the incidence of hardcore poverty will be eradicated by 2010. The exemption from paying electricity bill of less than RM20 is one such move.
The Borneo Post has been made to understand that the Sarawak Electricity Supply Corporation (Sesco) has yet to make public the exact number of consumers who will benefit from the exemption as well as the amount it would have to absorb in order to complement the federal government’s move.
Yesterday Kedup assemblyman Frederick Bayoi Manggie told The Borneo Post that he accepted the move, saying: “Anything that can help the needy or the very unfortunate is most welcome as far as I am concerned. The RM20 Sesco bill exemption is meant for them. I thank the government for the good gesture.
“But I do not think many people in my constituency will benefit from it because most have monthly bills of above RM30,” said Bayoi who is also Walikota of Kota Samarahan and Parti Pesaka Bumiputera Bersatu (PBB) supreme council member.
Mas Gading MP Datuk Dr Tiki Lafe said the exemption was aimed at reducing the burden of the hardcore poor.
“But the others who will benefit from it are owners of houses without occupants like mine in Bau and village houses occupied by elderly persons.
“I suppose in Sarawak, very few households pay monthly bill of RM20 or less because our tariffs are already high. You can try and get the actual figure from Sesco,” said Dr Tiki who is also Sarawak Progressive Democratic Party (SPDP) vice president.
Pelagus assemblyman Larry Sng defended the Prime Minister by saying that Abdullah had taken a nationwide perspective before drawing up the measure.
“The prime minister may have drawn the exemption, being part of his eradication of poverty programme, after taking into account a nationwide perspective. I am sure it will benefit many people,” he said yesterday.
“But what is equally important is the provision of a stable supply of electricity through Sesco, to the longhouses and rural villages which have yet to be connected.
“Another equally important issue to the rural people is, the expenditure incurred by using generator sets to produce electricity compared to the electricity generated from the grid,” said Sng who holds two cabinet portfolios namely Assistant Minister of Economic Planning and Assistant Minister of Industrial Development.
Deputy Minister of Science, Technology and Innovations Fadillah Yusof said he was aware of the grouses and doubts from the general public ever since the move was announced.
“For some of us, RM20 is a small amount. But for others, RM20 can mean a lot, especially the lower income group as that amount will be enough to last them several days in a week unlike many of us who may spend RM20 or more per day,” Fadillah, who is also Petra Jaya MP cum PBB Youth chief said after the launch of Sukma Ria Ramadan Bazaar in Semariang on Monday.
But PKR state liaison chief Dominique Ng said he was disappointed with the move, saying it would not help a wider section of Sesco consumers.
“Only very few families from the lowest income group will benefit from the exemption. Most of the average and even economical households will be charged at least RM50 plus per month,” he pointed out.
“My bill, without the air-condition but having fridge, TV, PC, washing machine among other things, is already more than RM100 monthly,” he said.
He said to him, the measure was only a “micro” sort of service when the government should be concerned about macro economy.
Sarawak Dayak National Union (SDNU) publicity chief Dr John Brian Anthony said the exemption would only benefit a few.
“Perhaps some doors in the longhouses close to town and low-cost flats may benefit from the exemption. I don’t think there will be many people who would benefit from it,” he said.
Former Malaysian Ranger Captain (Rtd) Mohd Johari Ibrahim said: “Those who will benefit may possibly be those living in coastal villages and longhouses with only 12-hour supply of electricity daily.”
A self-employed Bob Kedeni described the move as just a political gimmick. “Only my sister benefits from the exemption. Her house is unoccupied. Sesco charges her RM5 plus per month,” he stressed.
“But this issue (exemption) is minor and just a “gula-gula politik” (political gimmick). I think the government should be more concerned about the impact of oil price hike on people. Why can’t our leaders see this?” he asked.
When contacted on Monday, Malaysian Trades Union Congress (MTUC) Sarawak secretary cum Sarawak Bank Employees Union CEO Andrew Lo said those who will benefit are “… only Indonesian workers at the construction sites!”
Minister of Public Utilities and Second Minister of Planning and Resource Management Dato Sri Awang Tengah Ali Hassan has confirmed that Sesco will implement the measure and it will be at the same time as its implementation in the Peninsular Malaysia by Tenaga Nasional Berhad.