Picture of a stall selling Menu Rahmah meals at Mydin USJ on March 5, 2024. — Picture by Miera Zulyana / MalayMail

KUALA LUMPUR — The federal government should ensure its Menu Rahmah initiative could continue helping Malaysians afford simple nutritious meals, said proponents who expressed concern over the apparent decline of the programme.

Once ubiquitous — with participants ranging from roadside stalls to multinational chains — informal surveys by Malay Mail have found the campaign to have waned significantly since its launch by the late Datuk Seri Salahuddin Ayub, the previous domestic trade and cost of living minister.

Salahuddin came up with the plan to give Malaysians, particularly low- and middle-income earners, access to affordable meals, targeting at the time for participating food outlets to sell items under the Menu Rahmah for RM5 each. Despite early doubt, the programme eventually grew into a success, gaining popularity with wide segments of Malaysians.

It falls under the larger Payung Rahmah programme of the Domestic Trade and Cost of Living Ministry (KPDN).

Hazim Iskandar, an executive working in Kuala Lumpur, lauded the programme and said it had helped him save up to 50 per cent from his usual meals.

He said this had been a blessing just as he and his wife welcomed their first child, which had significantly raised their monthly commitments.

“I live in Ampang and it is hard to find (Menu Rahmah) now. In the initial stages after the initiative was introduced, there were some restaurants offering it without labelling it as Menu Rahmah. But the campaign is now low. It is good to bring it back,” Hazim said.

While the official inflation rate has fallen to 2.5 per cent, Malaysians such as Shahmi Shahrani, 35, said they continue to struggle with rising costs.

As a married father of four, he said finding affordable meals when he came to work in the city was always a concern; while food was still affordable in Batang Kali where he lived, Shahmi said he would often be out RM30 for breakfast and lunch here.

Also calling for the revival of Menu Rahmah, he said he was again feeling the same financial pressures that beset Malaysians at the time of the initiative’s introduction in January 2023.

“The campaign has certainly died down. It is hard to hear people talking about it like before,” he added.

Fresh graduate Nuramirah Edi Azli, 25, said the Menu Rahmah had been crucial in helping her keep her meal costs manageable in the city.

Despite setting a RM15 budget for her daily meals, Nuramirah said it was hard to keep under this while working in the vicinity of Suria KLCC — until Menu Rahmah came along.

“I used to buy meals from McDonald’s before the boycott began. It was RM5 and it was helpful. When I was in university, Menu Rahmah was available upon request and I had friends who would pre-order the day before and collect their meals the next day,” she added, referring to the calls to boycott business with ties to the US, Israel or those that had links

Although saying her expenses were still under control due to living with her family, she said this was increasingly difficult.

“I feel it (Menu Rahmah) needs to be continued but at targeted areas which are in need. It is a good initiative,” Nuramirah said.

A benefit for some, Menu Rahmah was also a lifeline for those on fixed or limited incomes, such as intern Nurul Izzati Mohd Suhimi who said she received an allowance of just RM500 a month.

The 23-year-old spoke emphathically in support of the initiative, saying it helped take the pressure of her to supplement her income doing odd jobs whenever possible, which included stints as a make-up assistant.

Nurul Izzati said she often had to spend between RM10 and RM15 per meal daily, which she called expensive. While she said she could occasionally find some for less, she tried to pack her own lunches to save as much as possible.

Being from out of state, Nurul Izzati said she had no one to rely on for assistance here in the city.

“Even with my part-time gigs, most days I only manage to get by. I will definitely buy it if Menu Rahmah is introduced in this area. It will make a huge difference for me. I think I can save more than RM100 on food and that is a big difference for me.

“I think it is not fair to judge one from their external outlook. Just because one dresses decently for work, it does not mean all is fine financially. Everyone’s got their struggles,” she said.

Subathra Menon, a manager based in Petaling Jaya, said the Menu Rahmah initiative was more relevant again due to the ringgit’s decline on the foreign exchange market, which was causing imported food items to become dearer.

She said it was especially helpful in business districts where food prices were typically elevated, adding that she had purchased from restaurants offering Menu Rahmah meals repeatedly.

“In today’s fast-paced world, not everyone can afford the luxury of time or money to prepare meals daily, and the RM5 Menu Rahmah serves as a practical solution. The rising costs of food have also led to more people opting to dine in. This initiative presents an opportunity to have people dine out without fear and directly helping to keep food establishments that could otherwise face a decline in clientele during economic downturns.

“However, the government must ensure food security and controlled prices so that the recent SST hike does not trickle down to food operators. There have been recent complaints that transportation price hike has resulted in higher price of food items despite food and beverage being exempted from the SST. Am not sure if the government took this into consideration when implementing the SST.

“If this is monitored and controlled well, I do believe the Menu Rahmah would be a profitable scheme for all traders, food establishments and the consumers,” she said.

Lorenza Lim, a 24-year-old paralegal, said she had not heard of Menu Rahmah until recently, but what she learned of it made her eager to see its offering near her.

Saying she lived on a tight monthly budget, Lim said she would be keen to see if the initiative to help her keep her spending in check.

Lim resides in Cheras here, where she pays RM1,600 monthly rent for a small studio unit. Privacy is important for her, as she is juggling work and studies. She also drives to work due to the demanding nature of her job, often finding herself working long hours.

The cost of living and commuting consumes a significant portion of her income, prompting her family to provide financial assistance in the form of a monthly allowance

To stay afloat and manage finances, Lim said she religiously cooks at home and does meal preparations to be taken to work.

“I would very much like to cut off some of my living costs. I spend RM600 on groceries monthly.

“I think I would be able to save around RM100 to RM300 per month, if I had access to Menu Rahmah. The savings would be huge for me as I can pay utilities and save up. With inflation nowadays, prices are just crazy. One plate of food can go up to RM10. Economy rice is also not an economical choice these days,” she added. – MalayMail

Original source — https://www.malaymail.com/news/malaysia/2024/04/12/as-menu-rahmah-fades-supporters-hope-to-see-putrajaya-revive-affordable-meal-scheme/122667

— BebasNews

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