The prime minister summoned 5,000 top BN leaders on Sunday today as though to 'brainwash' them over the oil hike issue so that they can rebut the criticisms from the opposition and NGOs. He repeated three points: First, that there are still subsidies making Malaysia's oil cheaper than its neighbours. Second, Petronas has contributed RM31 billion to the country's coffers (though he did not touch on the call for opening its books for public scrutiny). Third, Malaysia could become a net oil importer due to consumers' 'wastefulness'.
What a joke. Firstly, oil is a national asset like a cake - you choose how much to eat for yourself and how much to sell. Somehow, some `free market' fundamentalists claim that the only 'market morality' is to sell all and use the proceeds on something else. There is no need to argue too much over such a simple logic.
Secondly, if Malaysia needs more oil than we have, what is wrong with importing it like many other countries do? If the oil is put to productive use we should be happy because we stand to add value to our products and make more money than that we need for importing the oil. Look at how oil importing countries like Japan, China, Singapore are booming economically. In real terms, exporting raw petroleum is at the bottom of the value-added chain - the refineries and the petrochemical industries are the bigger earners from this raw energy source. May be the politicians who are cushioned by easy oil money will feel threatened because they don't see the above economic logic. To them the unthinkable is: Malaysia will sink into a hell when we become net oil importer. What scare-mongering.
Thirdly and the worst joke of all is that any oil price below the world market's will cause people to be 'wasteful' as though oil is costless currently. Actually, everyday transport and cooking costs are already quite thrifty and there is a limit how far we can lessen them. The real waste comes from two structural sources, firstly outdated technology and lousy town planning which assumes greater role for private transport than public transport and secondly the government's own wastefulness where project costs are jacked up many times by crony companies.
The government is the one who needs to be 'jimat cermat' - not the people who already work multiple jobs to make ends meet. So this gives a strong argument for oil subsidies in that it is better for the people to use the oil wealth directly (like eating the cake) than to allow it to go around the market and into the wasteful government's hands.
So the prime minister thought that the people are stupid and he wanted his 5,000 'leaders' to come to him to get 'tips' on how to refute the critics. Why did he never think of using a more modern and energy-saving technology like teleconferencing to address them rather than making them spend more money on travelling?
This explains the government's wastefulness part. The PM may not be aware that this drastic oil price hike is truly a gamble. The people who are pliant do not asked to be taken for a ride, they have their limits to being bullied.