Wednesday, July 16, 2008


July 16, 2008 01:24 AM

KUALA LUMPUR, July 16 (Bernama) -- Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR) advisor Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim failed to offer a convincing and sustainable formula in reducing the price of fuel during the special debate 'Form the Government Today, Fuel Price Down Tomorrow'.

Although he spoke eloquently and attracted the attention of the audience, particularly his supporters, with his rhetoric, the formula he presented was successfully rebutted by his opponent, Datuk Ahmad Shabery Cheek, who is the Information Minister.

The minister provided more facts in defending the government's move to restructure the fuel subsidy compared to Anwar who chose to adopt the populist approach in wooing the audience.

According to Anwar, the fuel price could be reduced by 50 sen per litre on the next day if Pakatan Rakyat were to form the government, through the formula of RM5 billion to be utilised to cater for the fuel price reduction.He said the money could be obtained through savings in government expenditure including overcoming the problems of leakage, and reducing the standby capacity in energy production from 40 per cent to 20 per cent by the independent power producers (IPP)."By reducing the capacity alone, we would get RM2 billion, so the remaining RM3 billion we get by prudent spending and overcoming leakages," he said.

Rebutting Anwar's arguments in the debate organised by at the Dewan Bahasa dan Pustaka Tuesday night, Ahmad Shabery said Anwar's proposal was no longer relevant because the oil price in the world market was higher than the price when the formula was bandied around in the run up to the March general election.

He explained that the price of fuel then was RM1.92 per litre for petrol and RM1.58 per litre for diesel.Following the increase in the price of oil in the world market which had exceeded USD130 per barrel, the government had to restructure the fuel subsidy, raising the petrol price at the petrol stations to RM2.70 per litre and diesel to RM2.58 per litre."If the government were to maintain the old price of fuel, it would mean that the subsidy that the government would have to bear is RM50 billion."This means that many development programmes including schools, roads, Felda, and the problems faced by the kampung people cannot be carried out merely to maintain the current way of life," said Ahmad Shabery.Ahmad Shabery said the fuel price hike was a global phenomenon caused by a number of reasons including the Iraq war, concerns over the United State's possible attacks against Iran and the increase in the demand for fuel from China and India.He said the solution to the problem was not through increasing the subsidy in the conventional way but rather, instituting new approaches through subsidy restructuring to ensure that the facility was channelled to and enjoyed by the low-income group."If we continue to give subsidy, then other foreign companies such as Exxon-Mobile, Shell and so on, will also enjoy the benefit from the people's money," he said.

He said many countries had also taken a similar approach to the subsidy system.Ahmad Shabery also slammed Anwar for claiming that the fuel price hikes were due to government inefficiency.

The minister said even countries like Finland, Norway and others with lesser reports of corruption, did not give fuel subsidy to their people."They have shown better economic performances and Malaysia too should be heading towards that direction," he said."If we pamper our rakyat (people) with cheap fuel although in reality the fuel price internationally is high, (what happens) in 2015 (when) we are no longer a net exporter?"In the next few years we may no longer have any more oil. Will the present subsidy be continued or will we immediately raise the price significantly from the present price?" Ahmad Shabery asked Anwar.

Anwar, however, disputed that the country's oil resources would be exhausted by 2015 and claimed that new oil wells might be found because the country had previously projected that its oil reserves would have been gone by 2005.Anwar added that Petronas was also actively carrying out oil exploration abroad.

Ahmad Shabery said Malaysia was certainly an oil exporter but not a major producer and as such needed to manage the national asset prudently in the interest of the future generation."From the profits made by Petronas, 91 per cent had been given to the government, what else do we want to take from Petronas," he said to loud applause from the audience.

Ahmad Shabery, who was not deterred by Anwar's eloquence, added: "Who are responsible for Petronas becoming strong and progressive now. Is it now due to the Umno and Barisan Nasional government?"The impressive achievement by Petronas all this while is due to the guidance given by the government. We did not burden Petronas, we allowed Petronas to reinvest (the profits)," he said.

The audience comprising 50 people from the Pakatan Rakyat and 50 from the government followed the debate without causing any commotion in the Balai Budaya Tun Syed Nasir.The hundreds of supporters from both sides were also well behaved in giving their moral support outside the hall.The audience met were generally happy with the way the debate was carried out and described it as a way of strengthening the democratic practice in the country."

Anwar adopted the approach of wooing the audience with rhetoric which struck the audience's emotion but was less convincing in presenting his formula whereas Ahmad Shabery presented more concrete and reasonable facts," commented an audience who declined to reveal his name.Dewan Bahasa dan Pustaka chairman Datuk Johan Jaaffar was the moderator of the debate which lasted about an hour.-- BERNAMA

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