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Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Malaysia, a most expensive nation in South East Asia

Malaysia, a most expensive nation in South East Asia

Living costs have been always on an upward trend. No doubt about that. As wages increase, so do living costs – although wage increases are always far more slower and far in-between.

But there is a harsh reality that clearly defines that Malaysia may after all be the most expensive country to stay compared to the rest of its neighbours. This is particularly true in the last ten years.

For a nation of only 28 million, and given its oil wealth and palm oil lead; for a nation that thrived from its tin and rubber blessings; for a nation that was well sheltered from the ravages of weather and natural disasters; a country that enjoys natural maritime pathways much sought after by the East and the West – how could this nation become a nightmare for its own citizens who are today struggling to meet bills, keep kids in school, and put quality food on the table everyday?

For a long, long time the government – in this case the ruling political party, has always made decisions all in the name of caring for the future stability of its rakyat. Many decisions were made despite the reservations of the populace.

So we went on an overdrive mode building all kinds of superstructures and facades. We had the Twin Towers at immense cost because the lesson drummed into us was it is necessary to put the nation on the world map and to draw tourists by the droves so that Malaysians can benefit from the tourist-dollar.

We have many more super-structures because the argument dished out was that it is better to build now then later as it would be more expensive over time and that the savings is in the interest of the rakyat.

We built, built and built. We spent billions more promoting this and that ceaselessly. And the government has not stopped splashing even till this day. It is always in the name of proting and attracting development and opportunities so that the rakyat can savour the sweetness of wealth created.

And we made the rakyat even pay more through taxes, tolls and tariffs. If you protested, the law would slam shut on your face. If you did not support all the decisions made by the government you will be labelled anti-government and all opportunities will be sealed from you and you would be lucky if the ISA did not bundle you off into oblivion.

Korek sini, tutup sana; korek sana, tutup sini

Today, we all know that the cost of living in Malaysia is far more greater than in any of the neighbouring countries. They have the freedom of choice guaranteed by their democratic capitalism. But do Malaysians enjoy that option?

Either they pay the toll or get nowhere. Either they pay the tariff or live in darkness. Either they take the job and live with what is dished out or they are left with nothing.

Either they pay the monthly dues or end up holed up in some ashram. If they try to put up a hut somewhere the local authorities will descend like vultures. If they try to plant some vegetables and cash crop under some bridge or flyover, you bet just as the labour begins to yield some hope the authorities will make a clean swoop. So, again we lose out to the neighbouring countries.

You want a car, go get a Proton. If you do not like it, no problem, just pay through your nose for an imported or CKD model.

It is a pity is it not? When citizens in a neighbouring oil-rich nation are living a stress-free and easy life, Malaysians despite having so much oil can only look at the rising towers and superstructures and eat Maggie and Roti Canai.

Just take a quick count at the number of bankrupts in the country. Just take a look at how credit cards are becoming temporary solace only to be swallowed in a sleepless nightmare for even young executives today. Just look at the way housewives are doing their everyday marketing. Just count the number of fathers who eat less daily at work just to make sure the pay packet can stretch a little longer.

Just listen to the rakyat tell you that their paypacket disappears within the first week of drawing their salaries. Is it not true that the commonly shared joke among the rakyat today is: "Korek sini, tutup sana; korek sana, tutup sini".

But the powers that be will say, “tighten your belts rakyat”. But nobody asks why is the country suddenly so expensive to live in today. And everything from television to print, we will only hear such rosy pictures of fun and laughter; success and gains. Who will feature the tears and pains of the struggling rakyat?

Now with the rising tariffs and the looming revision of pump prices it is going to snowball further and the working rakyat can only groan. Or worst, make believe that they are doing okay. No wonder even the once loud-mouthed Consumer body has been silenced into a stuffed kitten.

What do we make out of all these really? Cry? Scream? Or just shut up and die a muted death? Sigh ...

J. D. Lovrenciear is a reader of Malaysia Chronicle

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