Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Oil Price


Posted by Dr. Mahathir Mohamad at www.chedet.com on June 5, 2008 12:56 PM

(VERSI BAHASA MALAYSIA DI AKHIR ARTIKEL INI)

The price of crude oil has increased by 400 percent in the last three years. It follows that the price of products must increase, sooner or later. In other countries petrol prices had already increased. In the United Kingdom one litre of petrol sells for more than one pound sterling or RM7. In the United States it is about RM5.

That the price in neighbouring countries has gone up is shown by the rush to fill up by Thai and to a lesser extent Singapore vehicles.

The Government has now announced an increase in petrol price by 78 sen to RM2.70 per litre, an increase of more than 40 per cent.
I may be mistaken but there seems to be less vehicles on the road today. But obviously that is not all that will happen. All other consumer goods, services and luxury goods would increase in price.

The cost of living must go up. Put another way there will be inflation and the standard of living will go down.

Obviously our increase in petrol price is far less than in the United Kingdom or the United States. But our per capita income is about one-third of theirs. In purchasing power terms our increase is more than in the UK or the US.

The increase hurts but the pain is greater not just because of the increase percentage-wise is higher than in developed countries but because of the manner the increase is made.

A few days ago the Government decided to ban sale of petrol to foreign cars. It flipped. Now foreign cars can buy again. Flopped.

Knowing that in a few days it was going to raise the price and foreigners would be allowed to buy, why cannot the Government just wait instead of banning and unbanning.

But be that as it may what could the Government have done to lessen the burden on the people that results from the increase in petrol price.

In the first place the Government should not have floated the Ringgit. A floating rate creates uncertainties and we cannot gain anything from the strengthened Ringgit. Certainly the people have not experienced any increase in their purchasing power because of the appreciation in the exchange rate between the US Dollar and the Ringgit.

Actually the Ringgit has increased by about 80 sen (from RM3.80 to RM3.08 to 1 US Dollar) per US Dollar, i.e. by more than 20 per cent. Had the Government retained the fixed rate system and increased the value of the Ringgit, say 10 per cent at a time, the cost of imports, in Ringgit terms can be monitored and reduced by 10 per cent. At 20 per cent appreciation the cost of imports should decrease by 20 per cent. But we know the prices of imported goods or services have not decreased at all. This means we are paying 20 per cent higher for our imports including the raw material and components for our industries.

Since oil prices are fixed in US Dollar, the increase in US Dollar prices of oil should also be mitigated by 20 per cent in Malaysian Ringgit.

But the Government wants to please the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank and decided to float the Ringgit. As a result the strengthening of the Ringgit merely increased our cost of exports without giving our people the benefit of lower cost of imports.

This is not wisdom after the event. I had actually told a Government Minister not to float the Ringgit three years ago. But of course I am not an expert, certainly I know little about the international financial regimes.

I believe the people expect the increase of petrol price. But what they are angry about is the quantum and the suddenness. The Prime Minister was hinting at August but suddenly it came two months earlier, just after the ban on sale of petrol to foreigners.

If the increase had been more gradual, the people would not feel it so much. But of course this means that the Government would have to subsidise, though to a decreasing extent.

Can the Government subsidise? I am the "adviser" to Petronas but I know very little about it beyond what is published in its accounts. What I do know may not be very accurate but should be sufficient for me to draw certain conclusions.

Roughly Malaysia produces 650,000 barrels of crude per day. We consume 400,000 barrels leaving 250,000 barrels to be exported.

Three years ago the selling price of crude was about USD30 per barrel. Today it is USD130 - an increase of USD100. There is hardly any increase in the production cost so that the extra USD100 can be considered as pure profit.

Our 250,000 barrels of export should earn us 250,000 x 100 x 365 x 3 = RM27,375,000,000 (twenty seven billion Ringgit).

But Petronas made a profit of well over RM70 billion, all of which belong to the Government.

By all accounts the Government is flushed with money.

But besides petrol the prices of palm oil, rubber and tin have also increased by about 400 per cent. Plantation companies and banks now earn as much as RM3 billion in profits each. Taxes paid by them must have also increased greatly.

I feel sure that maintaining the subsidy and gradually decreasing it would not hurt the Government finances.

In the medium term ways and means must be found to reduce wasteful consumption and increase income. We may not be able to fix the minimum wage at a high level but certainly we can improve the minimum wage.

Actually our wages are high compared to some of our neighbours. The investors who come here are attracted not by cheap labour but by other factors, among which is the attitude of the Government towards the business community and the investors in particular.

From what I hear business friendliness is wanting in the present Government - so much so that even Malaysians are investing in other countries. There are rumblings about political affiliations influencing decisions. Generally Government politicians are said to be arrogant.

Malaysia is short of manpower. The labour intensive industries are not benefiting Malaysians. Foreign workers are remitting huge sums of money home.

The industrial policy must change so that high tech is promoted in order to give Malaysians higher wages to cope with rising costs of living.

The world is facing economic turmoil due to the depreciation of the US Dollar, the sub-prime loan crisis, rising oil and raw material prices, food shortages and the continued activities of the greedy hedge funds. The possibility of a US recession is real. In a way the US is already in recession. The world economy will be dragged down by it.

Malaysia will be affected by all these problems. I wonder whether the Government is prepared for this.

We cannot avoid all the negative effects but there must be ways to mitigate against them and to lessen the burden that must be borne by all Malaysians. I am sure the Government will not just pass all these problems to the people as the review of oil prices every month seem to suggest.

*****


Harga Minyak

Harga minyak mentah naik sebanyak 400 peratus sejak tiga tahun lepas. Lambat laun harga barangan juga akan alami kenaikan. Di negara-negara lain harga petrol sudahpun naik. Di United Kingdom satu liter petrol dijual pada kadar lebih satu pound sterling atau lebih kurang RM7. Di Amerika Syarikat harganya lebih kurang RM5.

Petunjuk bahawa harga minyak di negara-negara jiran mengalami kenaikan ialah bagaimana kenderaan Thai dan juga Singapura berpusu-pusu mengisi minyak di Malaysia.

Kerajaan umumkan kenaikan petrol sebanyak 78 sen ke RM2.70, kenaikan melebihi 40 peratus.

Saya mungkin tersilap, tetapi ternampak kekurangan jumlah kenderaan di jalanraya hari ini. Tetapi kesannya bukanlah terhad kepada itu sahaja. Barangan pengguna, perkhidmatan dan barangan mewah akan mengalami peningkatan harga.

Kos sara hidup sudah tentu meningkat. Dilihat daripada sudut lain akan tercetus inflasi dan taraf kehidupan akan menurun.

Memanglah kenaikan harga petrol di sini jauh lebih rendah daripada di United Kingdom, mahupun Amerika Syarikat. Tetapi pendapatan per kapita kita adalah lebih kurang satu pertiga mereka. Berasas kepada kuasa membeli kita kenaikan harga adalah lebih tinggi dari UK atau Amerika Syarikat.

Kenaikan ini menyakitkan, tetapi sakitnya lebih dirasai bukan kerana kenaikan dari segi peratusan adalah lebih tinggi daripada negara-negara maju, tetapi kerana cara kenaikan tersebut dibuat.

Beberapa hari lepas Kerajaan putuskan untuk haramkan penjualan minyak kepada kenderaan milik asing. Tunggang. Sekarang kenderaan asing dibenar membeli semula. Terbalik!

Mengetahui yang ianya akan menaikkan harga minyak dalam beberapa hari dan orang asing akan dibenar membeli, kenapa Kerajaan tidak menunggu sahaja daripada keluaran arahan larangan dan kemudian benarkan semula.

Namun begitu apakah yang Kerajaan boleh lakukan untuk meringankan beban kepada rakyat hasil daripada kenaikan harga petrol.

Pertamanya, Kerajaan tidak patut mengapungkan Ringgit. Kadar apungan menyebabkan ketidak-tentuan nilai Ringgit dan kita tidak akan meraih apa-apa keuntungan daripada kekuatan Ringgit. Sudah tentu rakyat tidak menikmati peningkatan kuasa membeli walaupun terdapat peningkatan nilai Ringgit dari segi tukaran dengan Dollar Amerika.

Sebenarnya Ringgit mengalami peningkatan lebih kurang 80 sen (daripada RM3.80 ke RM3.08 pada 1 US Dollar) satu US Dollar, melebihi 20 peratus. Jika Kerajaan teruskan sistem tambatan kadar dan menaikkan nilai Ringgit pada kadar 10 peratus pada satu masa, kos import, dalam Ringgit boleh dipantau dan dikurangkan sebanyak 10 peratus. Pada kadar kenaikan 20 peratus, kos import patutnya turun 20 peratus. Tetapi kita tahu harga barangan import dan perkhidmatan tidak kurang. Ini bermakna kita bayar 20 peratus lebih tinggi untuk import termasuk bagi bahan mentah dan komponen untuk industri

Oleh sebab harga minyak disebut dalam Dollar Amerika, kenaikan harga minyak dalam Dollar sepatutnya dikurangkan sebanyak 20 pertaus dalam Ringgit Malaysia.

Tetapi Kerajaan hendak turut Tabung Kewangan Antarabangsa dan Bank Dunia dan telah putuskan untuk mengapung Ringgit. Akibatnya kekuatan Ringgit hanya meningkatkan kos export tanpa memberi sebarang keuntungan kepada rakyat menerusi kekurangan kos import.

Ini bukanlah kecerdikan selepas sesuatu itu terjadi. Saya telah beritahu seorang Menteri Kerajaan supaya Ringgit tidak diapungkan tiga tahun lalu. Memanglah saya bukan pakar dan saya hanya tahu serba sedikit tentang rejim kewangan antarabangsa.

Saya percaya umum terpaksa menerima kenaikan harga petrol. Tetapi apa yang menimbulkan kemarahan ialah jumlah kenaikan serta keadaan tergesa-gesa. Perdana Menteri sebelum ini seolah-olah mencadangkan kenaikan hanya pada bulan Ogos, tetapi ianya datang dua bulan lebih awal, sejurus selepas pengharaman penjualan kepada orang asing.

Jika kenaikan berperingkat, rakyat tidak akan terlalu terasa. Tetapi ini bermakna Kerajaan perlu terus beri subsidi walaupun tahapnya akan menurun.

Mampukah Kerajaan terus beri subsidi? Saya "penasihat" Petronas tetapi saya tahu sedikit sahaja berkenaannya dan tidak lebih daripada apa yang dilaporkan dalam akaunnya yang diumumkan. Apa yang saya tahu mungkin tidak begitu tepat tetapi cukup untuk saya membuat beberapa penilaian.

Malaysia mengeluar lebih kurang 650,000 tong minyak sehari. Kita guna 400,000 tong dan selebihnya 250,000 tong di export.

Tiga tahun lalu minyak mentah dijual pada kadar USD30 satu tong. Hari ini ianya USD130 - kenaikan sebanyak USD100. Hampir tiada peningkatan di dalam kos pengeluaran oleh itu lebihan USD100 boleh dianggap untung bersih.

250,000 tong yang dieksport sepatutnya memberi kita pulangan 250,000 x 100 x 365 x 3 = RM27,375,000,000 (Dua puluh tujuh bilion Ringgit).

Tetapi Petronas untung lebih RM70 billion, yang kesemuanya milik Kerajaan.

Kerajaan ini melimpah dengan wang.

Selain minyak, harga minyak sawit, getah dan timah juga meningkat lebih kurang 400 peratus. Keuntungan syarikat perladangan dan bank-bank juga mencecah sehingga RM3 billion tiap satu. Cukai yang dibayar juga sudah tentu mengalami peningkatan yang tinggi.

Saya percaya jika subsidi dikekalkan dan dikurangkan secara berperingkat ianya tidak akan mengekang kewangan Kerajaan.

Di dalam jangka masa terdekat cara untuk mengurangkan pembaziran dan menaikkan pendapatan mestilah diperkenal. Kita mungkin tidak dapat menetapkan gaji minima, tetapi sudah tentu kita boleh meningkatkan sedikit jumlah gaji minima.

Sebenarnya pendapatan kita tinggi berbanding sesetengah jiran kita. Pelabur yang datang ke sini tertarik bukan dengan harga buruh murah, tetapi faktor-faktor lain termasuk sikap dan pendekatan Kerajaan tehadap komuniti perniaga terutamanya pelabur.

Daripada apa yang saya dengar, sikap mesra peniaga amat berkurangan pada Kerajaan sekarang hinggakan orang Malaysia juga melabur di luar negara. Terdapat cakap-cakap berkenaan hubungan politik mempengaruhi keputusan. Secara amnya ahli politik Kerajaan dikatakan sombong.

Malaysia tidak punyai cukup tenaga kerja. Industri yang memerlukan tenaga pekerja yang ramai tidak menguntungkan Malaysia. Pekerja asing menghantar jumlah wang yang besar ke negara asal mereka.

Polisi industri mestilah bertukar agar teknologi tinggi dapat dipromosikan untuk memberi rakyat Malaysia lebihan pendapatan bagi menampung kos sara hidup yang meningkat.

Dunia sedang menghadapi kecelaruan ekonomi akibat penurunan nilai Dollar Amerika, krisis pinjaman sub-prima, kenaikan harga minyak dan bahan mentah, kekurangan makanan dan akiviti tamak "hedge funds" yang berterusan. Kemungkinan berlakunya resesi ekonomi Amerika Syarikat adalah benar. Sebenarnya Amerika Syarikat sedang mengalami kelembapan ekonomi. Ekonomi dunia akan turut ditarik turun.

Malaysia juga akan terjejas kesan daripada semua masalah ini. Saya tertanya adakah Kerajaan bersedia untuk menghadapi semua ini.

Kita tidak boleh lari daripada akibat negatif tetapi mestilah ada cara untuk mengatasinya agar beban yang terpaksa ditanggung rakyat dapat dikurangkan. Saya harap yang Kerajaan tidak akan melepaskan sahaja segala masalah ini kepada rakyat seperti ynag digambarkan cadangan untuk menilai harga minyak setiap bulan.