The Anwar-Shabery Debate
Malaysian opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim promised to cut gasoline prices by 19 percent if he came to power, a pledge the government deemed ''populist'' amid soaring global crude oil prices.
In a live televised debate with Information Minister Ahmad Shabery Cheek in Kuala Lumpur late yesterday, Anwar said prices could be slashed to 2.20 ringgit (68 cents) a liter, reversing part of the government's 41 percent price increase last month. Ahmad Shabery said such a policy would erode funding for development projects.
The fuel-price increase triggered some street protests in Malaysia, and Anwar, facing arrest after sodomy accusations, is seeking to revive his campaign to gain power. The government, which spent 35 billion ringgit ($11 billion) on fuel subsidies in 2007, is trimming the payout after oil prices surged to a record and economic growth slows worldwide.
''Subsidies will not last forever,'' Ahmad Shabery told a packed studio audience that included opposition and government supporters. ''It is as if Anwar is in denial, that the whole world is experiencing a rise in oil prices.''
Anwar said the price reduction can be financed with a 5 billion-ringgit fund, most of which could be generated by reducing excess capacity at Malaysian power producers and by cutting corruption.
Malaysian police said yesterday they issued a warrant for Anwar's arrest and plan to question him today about sodomy allegations by his former aide. Anwar denies the allegations.
Anwar's People's Justice Party and its two allies won control of five of Malaysia's 13 states in the March 8 elections, and denied the ruling coalition its two-thirds majority in Parliament. He has claimed he will topple Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi by mid-September to end five decades of unbroken coalition rule. (Bloomberg)
***** The Information Minister Datuk Ahmad Shabery Cheek must be congratulated for persisting in participating in the special debate on the fuel price issue, despite initial resistance from those within Umno. Such well organised debates are beneficial for disseminating information on contentious issues and allows the public to make up their own mind. Such an opportunity would never have been permitted during Dr Mahathir's heydays.
On the debate itself, it is only natural that there will be different opinions on who was more convincing, Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim or Ahmad Shabery Cheek.
Anwar, charismatic as always, expressed himself very clearly, convincingly and lucidly and did not take the bait to indulge in personal attacks on the minister. He had a very valid point when he said that RM2bil could be saved by reducing the country’s electricity buffer of 40% to 20%, as the extra capacity only benefited independent power producers (IPP). (The lopsided deals which only benefited the IPPs were the handiwork of Dr Mahathir's prosper-thy-cronies policies.) Anwar's claims of leakages and corruption were largely left unanswered.
Shabery too did well in explaining the government's rationale in raising the price of fuel, although part of his strategy was also to rubbish the PKR adviser. Frankly there was nothing much more that he could have added, given the circumstances of the fuel hike. A trivial point to note here is that the saliva on the edges of Shabery's mouth during his speech was a bit of a turn-off. Perhaps he should do something about it. Not blaming him, mind you. Reminds one of the retired minister, Tun Dr Lim Keng Yaik.