Experts say Menu Rahmah only band-aid, Putrajaya must still address Malaysia’s low pay

KUALA LUMPUR, Feb 10 — The Menu Rahmah initiative to offer balanced, cooked meals for only RM5 at selected food outlets is a good initiative, according to experts who nevertheless said the government should develop long-term solutions to Malaysia’s low wages.

Economist Datuk Jalilah Baba told Malay Mail that there are better ways of empowering both consumers and food business owners, such as by organising a food festival and subsidising costs for vendors.

“It is still badly thought out. There must be a carefully planned programme so that it succeeds.

“The success of the programme does not depend on how many customers the stall gets from people choosing the Menu Rahmah.

“Let the (vendors) be competitive and creative,” she suggested.

However, she explained that the menu must be made interesting for consumers as well.

“Otherwise, when you want to make it cheap, it will compromise the quantity and quality,” she said.

Director of the Malaysian Inclusive Development and Advancement Institute under Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia (Minda-UKM) Tan Sri Noor Azlan Ghazali pointed to low wages as the root issue that had to be dealt with.

“Our ‘mistake’ is all along for years we have always focused on prices, for example by trying to make it cheap/affordable via various measures, price control, dedicated outlets selling at cheaper prices, and now special ‘low price affordable’ menu,” he said when contacted.

He said it is no mystery that the bottom 40th per centile of earners (B40) are not earning a fair wage.

“Roughly, only 16 per cent of national income goes to the B40,” he added.

He explained that it would be better for the government to focus on creating healthy competitive markets that set fair prices and attend to the income problem faced by many.

A Menu Rahmah meal served at Mydin USJ February 6, 2023. — Picture by Miera Zulyana

A Menu Rahmah meal served at Mydin USJ February 6, 2023. — Picture by Miera Zulyana

On the other hand, economist Nungsari Ahmad Radhi described Menu Rahmah as a “quick fix”, but still better than nothing.

“Yes, the menu doesn’t solve the problem of low wages, but it provides affordable food now,” he said.

Besides that, the issue of wages was the result of a major structural issue that would take time to untangle.

“[Menu Rahmah] helps the right people immediately in terms of affordable food,” he added.

The menu was launched on January 31 by the Domestic Trade and Cost of Living Minister Datuk Seri Salahuddin Ayub.

Around 12,000 premises have already offered Menu Rahmah, including restaurants affiliated with the Malaysian Indian Restaurant Owners Association (Primas), the Malaysian Muslim Restaurant Owners Association (Presma), Malaysia Singapore Coffee Shop Proprietors General Association (MCSPGA), and Mydin supermarket outlets nationwide, Salahuddin said at the launch.

A survey done by Malay Mail found that stalls offering Menu Rahmah food items at the food court at the Subang Jaya branch of the Mydin hypermarket were a hit among customers regardless of income level.

On Thursday, Salahuddin reportedly announced that the initiative had attracted the interests of other sectors, including healthcare.

A Menu Rahmah poster is seen at Mydin USJ February 6, 2023. — Picture by Miera Zulyana

A Menu Rahmah poster is seen at Mydin USJ February 6, 2023. — Picture by Miera Zulyana


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