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Friday, June 23, 2017

Increase in cost of living is killing the Raya mood

Hari Raya has always had a special place in the hearts of fellow Malaysians, Muslims and non-Muslims alike. For fellow Muslims, we remember this day vividly due to the collection or giving of duit raya while we serve our united family with rendang and ketupat, while colorful cookies and cakes wait to be munched upon. This is also a time where Malaysians from all walks of life get together to catch up with one another.
I personally love Raya celebrations. I cook during Raya. I bake cookies and cakes during Raya. Most importantly, I must give out duit raya to my nephews and nieces. It’s a process which I believe every Malaysian is accustomed to.
This year however is uniquely different. When I visited the wet market to purchase ikan kembong (a common fish for one’s household), I witnessed this old Malay lady who picked up an almost rotten fish. The shop owner asked if the lady intended to feed the fish to her cats. Her response had me in tears. She said, “Ikan yang dah nak pecah perut murah kan? Saya nak beli untuk keluargaInisahaja yang mampu (A rotten fish is cheaper, isn’t it? I want to buy it for my family. This is all I can afford)”. I immediately helped her out with whatever cash I had and took down her details to request further support.
A day of festivities is now clouded with financial uncertainties due to the burdensome increase in cost of living. During Raya, it’s common for people to spend on the best of meals to serve to one’s family. Evidently, this lady was so financially stretched that she could only afford an almost-rotten fish for the family.
This is not an uncommon sight. The inflation rate this March was at its worst level in almost a decade (5.1 percent). The price of ikan kembong has jumped by more than 20 percent. I was shocked to find out that my Raya baking materials have gotten intolerably expensive.
The price of flour, sugar, cooking oil and baking powder all lead to the price of Raya cookies increasing by more than 15 percent. All of these might sound insignificant to the upper middle-income class, but to those who earn an average of RM2000 or below a month, this increase hurts a lot, especially during Raya season when it is customary to prepare cookies and cakes. I believe a lot of Malaysians will find it difficult to hand out duit raya like before.
While we are burdened by the increase in the cost of living, our wages have either stagnated or decreased. According to the “Malaysian Economy in Figures 2016” report by the Economic Planning Unit, Malaysia’s gross national income (GNI) per capita fell from US$10,677 in 2014 to an estimated US$8,821 last year. This means that our purchasing power has been reduced quite significantly. This affects those at the bottom of the income pyramid the most, who spend a higher percentage of their disposable income on food and shelter.
Basic issues like these will be on the minds of Malaysians when they go back to their kampungs. Independent Malaysian pollster Merdeka Centre also found that economic concerns were foremost on the minds of 74 percent of voters, far ahead of ethnic and political discord, at 3 percent and 2 percent respectively.
I believe Raya-goers will be able to link the increase in cost of living with government mismanagement and widespread corruption. Even some of my pro-Umno friends are asking why the Public Service Department cut RM240 million worth of scholarships. How could millions be allegedly spent elsewhere, while the budget for our public universities is slashed by 20 percent?
Conversations like this will come up regularly during Raya season, especially when we find it difficult to finance our once-in-a-year, memorable Eid Fitri celebrations. The Raya mood will take a hit, but I am confident that the strongest hit will be received by those who put us in this position in the first place.

SYED SADDIQ SYED ABDUL RAHMAN is Bersatu Youth chief, and is Asia’s best debater, having won the United Asia Debate Championship in May 2015.- Mkini

1 comment:

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