Saturday, 20 July 2013

Every day, every year -- chicken, chicken, chicken!

Every day, every year -- chicken, chicken, chicken! -- SM Mohamed Idris

The increase in the market price of chicken has caused dissatisfaction among Malaysian consumers.  In the two weeks since the beginning of Ramadan, the dramatic rise of chicken price has become a hotly discussed issue among consumers, traders and policy makers. Previously, the price of chicken was around RM7 per kg. Now, at the Jelutong Market for example, chicken price is between RM8 to RM9 per kg. The Consumers’ Association of Penang (CAP) has received more than 50 complaints from consumers regarding this issue.

According to media reports, the link between producers, intermediaries (distributors) and retailers is one determinant of the price of chicken. Farmers and traders insist they have no choice and must conform to the market price that is sensitive to price of chicken feed, transportation costs and the cost of labour.  The shortage of chicken in the market has prompted some traders to increase prices at will.  This ultimately affects and burdens Malaysian consumers who have chosen chicken as their main protein source.

The Ministry of Domestic Trade, Cooperatives and Consumerism (MDTCC) has proposed to import chicken, recommended that consumers boycott buying chicken, and would announce a ceiling price on August 1, 2013 (the price control for chicken is only during the festive season). The Ministry did not clearly state the causes of the rise in chicken prices that has caused panic among consumers. The issue of increase in the price of chicken is not new. It can be said to be an annual occurrence, repetitive, synonymous with the festive season. We urge the Ministry to find a solution that is consistent and benefits both consumers and producers.

Ceiling price of chicken announced on August 1, 2013

As in previous years, the Ministry has introduced the enforcement of the Festive Season Price Control Scheme under the Price Control and Anti-Profiteering Act 2011 (formerly the Price Control Act 1946). Under this scheme, a number of essential items (including poultry) are identified as price-controlled goods for the festive season at the maximum price set at different levels i.e. manufacturers, wholesalers and retailers in a given period. The scheme is implemented throughout Malaysia and the price set differs according to region and district. For this year, the Ministry will announce the ceiling price for chicken and other items on August 1, 2013. The question is, by learning from past experience on price hikes, why doesn’t the Ministry ease the burden of consumers by enforcing the scheme earlier, i.e. at the onset of Ramadan? Are the issues on the causes of price increase and measures to be taken to overcome this problem discussed annually only when consumers feel the burden and begin to complain?

The Act that protects consumers from sharp increases in prices of goods

The Price Control and Anti-Profiteering Act 2011 prohibits traders from profiteering and being unreasonable in the sale and supply of goods. Under the Act, profiteer means making profit unreasonably high.  If convicted of the offence, action will be taken against the trader. In addition, the Minister responsible must establish a mechanism to address the issues of profiteering, to determine unreasonably high profit. CAP would like to get confirmation from MDTCC whether the mechanism is in place? If the mechanism is in place there is no need for the Ministry to wait until August 1, 2013 to enforce the price control scheme. If not, the parties concerned should justify why the mechanism has not been fixed? Is the issue of rising prices a trivial issue?

We are also aware of the role of the Price Controller as stipulated in the Price Control and Anti-Profiteering Act 2011. "The Controller may, with the approval of the Minister, by order published in the Gazette, determine the maximum, minimum or fixed price for the manufacturing, producing, wholesaling or retailing". CAP is confident that the mechanism developed by the Ministry would certainly work well with the help of the Price Controller.

The Price Controller's role would definitely be more effective if located in every district and every branch of the ministry and given the autonomy and authority to carry out operations and enforcement at the local level.

In addition, the Ministry should intensify cooperation with the Ministry of Agriculture and Agro-based Industry (MOA), particularly in addressing the issues of shortage and rising prices of goods during the festive season. MOA has provided an alternative to urge consumers to buy goods at the Farmers Market (FAMA - Federal Agricultural Marketing Authority). Prices here are reasonable. We also welcome the introduction of the 'Save Kitchen Expenses” programme. We believe that if both the Ministries cooperate from the beginning and consumers are provided information, consumers will not panic when there is a shortage and the price of chicken increases.

What, besides chicken?

Why is chicken the choice for all Malaysians? In the past, before the 1970s, chicken meat was quite expensive.  Some families only ate chicken once a week or once a month.  Those who were poorer only ate chicken during the festive season. Currently, chicken is a cheap source of protein when compared to fish, beef, lamb, etc. Chicken is also very inclusive, because it can be enjoyed by all races in Malaysia.

As we mentioned earlier, people's reactions show their annoyance and inability to face the sudden increase in the price of chicken. Consumers should be given more alternatives to choose food. At this time, the decision made by consumers is based on what is offered by the market, their budget, the price of substitute products and alternatives.

Communities should be encouraged to carry out small-scale farming including poultry rearing, and the government should provide assistance in terms of initial capital, land ownership, education and training. In addition, the government should rejuvenate the fisheries sector as the price of fish and marine produce are expensive, which also affects consumer choice in selecting protein sources besides chicken.

The issue of price hike of chicken and chicken shortage is just one part of a larger issue -- the management of food resources in Malaysia.


SM Mohamed Idris is the President of Consumers Association of Penang (CAP).

Hong Kong marks anniversary of Bruce Lee's death

Hong Kong marks anniversary of Bruce Lee's death

HONG KONG: Hailed as cinema's first martial arts hero and a cinematic bridge between the cultures of East and West, Bruce Lee helped put Hong Kong on the movie world map.

So why are some in the city marking the 40th anniversary of his death in a toilet?

"In 1958, Bruce Lee was a student at St Francis Xavier's [College]," Wong Yiu-keung, chairman of the Bruce Lee Club, explains.

"One day, he was caught in a fight in a washroom by one of the fathers.

"But the priest also boxed back in his home country. So, he didn't punish him. Instead, he invited him to the boxing classes. Lee later participated in an interschool competition and won."

The incident was significant in Lee, who died from swelling of the brain aged just 32, deciding to tunnel his love of martial arts into something positive.

A short time afterwards he opened a martial arts school in the United States, where he was born.

Fans of Lee will visit his Hong Kong alma mater this weekend as one of several stops on an unofficial "Bruce Lee trail" in the former British colony, where the star spent his childhood.

Other points on the walk include Lee's statue on the Avenue of the Stars and the Bruce Lee Club house, both in the Tsim Sha Tsui neighbourhood of the southern Chinese city, which is without a permanent museum dedicated to the screen legend.

Fans will also take in a monastery in the New Territories which featured in perhaps his most famous movie, "Enter the Dragon".

A five-year exhibition at the Hong Kong Heritage Museum, featuring memorabilia from his life and films including his iconic yellow jumpsuit, was due to be opened Saturday by his daughter Shannon Lee.

"The way I know my father is not through media. The way I know my father is in number of different ways," Lee, who was four when her father died, said Friday.

"It's through the people who knew him well, his friends, my family. It's also through his own words, because he wrote voluminously.

"I have all of his library books, thousands of books and he would underline in them and write notes in the margins, so I know him from him."

Some of those notebooks, poetry, and family photos are among 600 items showcased at the museum until 2018.

A 20th century cultural icon who founded Jeet Kune Do, Lee's untimely death in Hong Kong in 1973 left fans around the world reeling.


Nazi-themed cafe in Indonesia sparks global outrage

Nazi-themed cafe in Indonesia sparks global outrage

BANDUNG: From a painting hung high on a blood-red wall, Adolf Hitler peers down on young students eating schnitzel and slurping German beer in Indonesia's Nazi-themed cafe.

The SoldatenKaffee ("The Soldiers' Cafe") opened its doors in the western Javanese city of Bandung in 2011, named after the popular hangout for soldiers in Germany and occupied Paris during World War II.

Eerier than the gas mask canisters and battle flags bearing swastikas is the more than two years' silence that has followed the cafe's grand launch.

When the cafe opened no one voiced offence at the waiters and guests dressed as Nazi soldiers -- the Holocaust is weak on the radar in Indonesia, home to the world's biggest Muslim population, where the Jewish community numbers a mere 20 people.

But a recent report about SoldatenKaffee in the English-language Jakarta Globe newspaper triggered angry responses online and prompted Bandung deputy mayor Ayi Vivananda to summon the owner for a meeting.

"We need to ask him first in detail what his real intentions are. But what is clear is that Bandung city will not allow anyone here inciting racial hatred," he said on Thursday.

The cafe's creator and owner, Henry Mulyana, said he did not intend to bring back memories of the Holocaust but was not surprised to be branded a "bad guy".

"I don't idolise Hitler, I simply adore the soldiers' paraphernalia," Mulyana, a Christian who likes playing with air rifles, told AFP at the cafe on Tuesday.

His collection is on display for diners and includes a water canteen, bayonet, goggles and a lantern, most of them bought online.

"The ones with swastikas on them are worth more," he said.

The restaurant had only ever received positive press before the recent exposure in English-language media and receives a regular stream of customers.

"We're living in Indonesia and Indonesians weren't tortured in the Holocaust, so we don't really care," said mining company employee Arya Setya, eating a plate of spaghetti at the cafe with his girlfriend.

But now that news of the cafe's existence has reached a wider audience, it has sparked outrage among Jewish communities in other parts of the world.

"The Simon Wiesenthal Center is reaching out to senior Indonesian diplomats to express on behalf of our 400,000 members and victims of the Nazi Holocaust our outrage and disgust," Rabbi Abraham Cooper, from the Los Angeles-based Jewish human rights group, told AFP by email.

"We expect that all appropriate measures will be taken to close down this business celebrating a genocidal ideology that at its core denigrates people of color and all non-Aryans," he wrote.

Under Indonesian law, anyone who deliberately shows hatred towards others based on race or ethnicity can be jailed for up to five years.

AFP via Astro Awani