KUALA LUMPUR, (Bernama) – Nearly 10 days after its introduction, ‘Menu Rahmah’ – one of the initiatives by the unity government to help the public cope with the rising cost of living – is gaining positive response from the people.
Based on a sentiment analysis survey conducted by Bernama on Feb 2 and 3, 56 percent of respondents gave the thumbs up to the government’s commitment to safeguarding the welfare of the B40 group by getting restaurants to offer nutritious meals at RM5 a plate.
Following the launch of Menu Rahmah by the Ministry of Domestic Trade and Cost of Living on Jan 31, more than 15,000 restaurants have joined in to offer the RM5 meals. The question now is, to what extent can a noble initiative like this be sustained and improved on over the long term?
Commenting on this, economic analyst Ahmed Razman Abdul Latiff hoped that the initial enthusiasm shown by the stakeholders will not fizzle out, warning that the initiative may be short-lived if there is no synergy between the government and food operators as well as traders dealing in food raw materials.
“If we were to look from the perspective of the food operators, it is indeed tough for them to reduce the price of a meal to RM5. This is because apart from the high cost of raw materials, they also have to bear other costs such as operational costs and salaries for their workers,” he told Bernama.
Suggesting that the government provide subsidies for raw materials bought by traders participating in the Menu Rahmah programme, Ahmed Razman said these businessmen were not spared by the hike in raw material costs, yet they have shown their willingness to work with the government to ensure the success of the RM5 meal initiative.
“Their efforts are praiseworthy and they deserve to be helped,” he added.
He also urged large corporations and non-governmental organisations (NGOs) to do their part to ensure the sustainability of the Menu Rahmah programme.
Pointing to the ‘pay it forward’ concept widely practised in other countries, he said companies and NGOs can provide allocations to restaurant operators to enable them to continue offering Menu Rahmah meals.
“The pay it forward concept involves paying for another person’s meal… a (restaurant) customer practising this concept will pay more for his meal, with the (restaurant operator) using the extra money to provide meals for individuals who can’t afford it,” he added.
Among the industry players involved in the Menu Rahmah initiative is hypermarket and retail chain operator Mydin Mohamed Holdings Bhd which is currently offering Menu Rahmah sets at only RM4.90 each with each meal consisting of rice, chicken or fish and vegetable as well as a bottle of mineral water.
Mydin managing director Datuk Ameer Ali Mydin said his company will extend the Menu Rahmah programme to all its branches nationwide.
“Even though the cost of raw materials is currently higher in Sabah and Sarawak compared to the peninsula, we are still committed to providing meals priced below RM5 throughout the nation.
“In Mydin Sandakan (in Sabah), for instance, raw chicken costs RM12 per kilogramme compared to RM9.40 in the peninsula,” he told Bernama Radio last Friday.
Meanwhile, Ahmed Razman, who is director of the MBA programme at Putra Business School, said the more affluent communities can also play a proactive role by donating Menu Rahmah food packs to targeted groups.
He also warned food outlet operators to beware of certain individuals who may take advantage of the cheap meals and urged them to come up with their own ways of screening customers.
“As of now, there are no rules preventing non-B40 customers from buying the RM5 meals,” he said.
Universiti Sains Islam Malaysia Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences lecturer Associate Prof Dr Norsham Juliana Nordin described Menu Rahmah as the right step towards introducing the balanced meal concept to people in low-income groups.
According to her, the programme is Malaysia’s first step in ensuring people categorised as B40 get to eat meals complete with all the macronutrients (carbohydrate, protein and fat) as well as fibre and other nutrients at such a low price.
“Based on studies done in the past, we found that protein in the form of chicken and fish or vegetables are among the major food components people in low-income groups tend to sacrifice in their daily menu to cut their food spending.
“The introduction of Menu Rahmah enables them (low-income earners) to include all the major food components in their daily menu as recommended by the (Ministry of Health’s) Malaysian Healthy Plate concept,” she said.
She said the preparation of the dishes in Menu Rahmah can also be improved so that the food will have a positive impact on the health of the target group.
“For example, cutting down on oil for fried food items can not only lead to better health for the consumers but also cost savings for the food operators themselves,” she added.
Norsham Juliana said food operators must also prepare a special Menu Rahmah for children by including dairy foods that help children to grow.
“Dairy products are a good source of protein and calcium and should be a part of Menu Rahmah… it will enable kids from low-income families to consume the basic nutrients they need,” she added.
Translated by Rema Nambiar
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