Friday, June 6, 2008

Truly A New Dawn For Malaysia

By his verbal announcement one Wednesday afternoon, lives have been changed forever, some irreversibly. As one colleague said, it’s gonna be painful. With one short press conference, the Prime Minister of Malaysia has effectively crushed the lifelong hopes and dreams of many simple Malaysians.

Truly A New Dawn

Many Malaysians woke up to a different country yesterday.

I am of course referring to the unprecedented 40% increase in fuel price as announced by the Malaysian Prime Minister yesterday. Raising the retail price to RM 2.70 per liter is not itself the greatest shocker of the day. Malaysians were made to understand or at least led to believe that the fuel prices will be raised very gradually by August 2008. To a certain extent, most Malaysians were even prepared mentally to see the day petrol sells at RM 4.00 per liter.

It is very much the element of surprise and the deceitful manner by which the Malaysian Prime Minister Abdullah Badawi that is angering lay people across the country. We knew he was lying when he said there would not be a fuel price increase after the elections. We also know he was not lying when he announced the 40% increase in petrol prices and 60% increase in diesel’s.

By his verbal announcement one Wednesday afternoon, lives have been changed forever, some irreversibly. As one colleague said, it’s gonna be painful. With one short press conference, the Prime Minister of Malaysia has effectively crushed the lifelong hopes and dreams of many simple Malaysians.

The young couple who had been saving for months prior to this for their planned marriage have just withheld their romantic plans. Overnight, the value of their savings has been shelved by almost half. They thought they could finally realize their lifelong dreams by the end of the year but it seems that marriage just might have to wait a little longer. As result, an unborn child initially ‘scheduled’ for 2009 might just not see the light of day till 2014, by the time which Malaysia is already a net importer of oil.

A young man surveying the daily classified ads for an affordable second-hand, single storey home has just thrown his shortlisted options circled in red into the waste bin. He thought he could finally have a place to call his own, his little corner upon this planet where he can be king in his own time and moment, if only for a few hours a day. He has worked overtime for so many years, striving to climb up that career ladder to be qualified for a housing loan. An unoccupied house remains soulless and a diligent chap remains homeless.

Over in the local Society of Prevention of Cruely to Animals (SPCA), a charming tabby was awaiting a young girl to meet and fall in love with his beautiful fur and soothing purr. He has been fighting against time for weeks now and through the steel bars that held him in, was sure that he saw love and acceptance when his crystal green eyes met with her hazel-hued ones. His time is running out now though. Raising a feline friend is not cheap or easy but it is worth every neurotic moment and spent emotion. Tried as she could, the little girl has failed to persuade her daddy struggling with home expenditure to invest in a lonely meowing soul. The pensive tabby would most likely be put to sleep soon, along with other canine buddies and feline comrades awaiting adoption by a Malaysian population more concerned with making ends meet more than ever before. The tabby will make a quiet exit from this world, breathing his last without experiencing the warm and firm embrace of a wide-eyed child still teeming with curiosity and admiration. It was a wonderful relationship that could have been but never did materialize.

My hamsters will be affected too. They have outgrown their cage and running wheel in a short period of two months. They were to get their individual cages and in bigger sizes too. That might have to wait a while longer for now. I have my own hamster wheel to run in obligation, waking up each day to work and back and back to work again. I was never a fan of rodents but they have won me over with their innocent gaze and why-don’t-you-pick-me-up stare. They would have to make do with a overcrowded cage for now, until I earn enough locum cash before acquiring that coveted property fit for a full-grown long-haired Syrian hamster.

Elsewhere, Mukiah Upas of Kampung Tanjong Kapor, Kudat are having second thoughts about sending his seven-year-old daughter to school next year. He had always believed that ladies do not need education, until the day he met the paediatric medical officer who convinced him that his daughter would have a brighter future only with adequate education in life. With the latest round of fuel price increase, Mukiah will now revert to his previous decision not to educate his children, but for a different reason. His daily earnings as a low-time fisherman simply does not allow the privilege of educating the young minds in his home.

A lot of rural folks will be affected in other ways as well. As it already is, patients from district with life-threatening conditions are already presenting late to healthcare centers because of the lack of transportation or because of insufficient funds to hire one. The inevitable increase in transportation costs is bound to discourage more ill patients from the district to seek medical care, until it is already too late and too irreparable of course. The old man from Kota Marudu with a perforated peptic ulcer will only present after ten days of insult while the bent elderly lady from Ranau with intestinal obstruction will arrive at the hospital only after full blown infection has set in.

Businesses will suffer too. The first to feel the effect are those of non-essential nature. The overpriced gift shops and religious bookstores, the florists and trendy hair saloons and the video outlets selling original DVDs – these are the ideal candidates to feel the early effects of an economic slowdown.

I am not an economist and am not qualified to comment of the wisdom of increasing fuel price and removing oil subsidies. I am however not so dumb and stupid that I can’t smell a liar when I am faced with one. The crux of the issue is really not so much about how much the government is spending on fuel subsidies. More than anything, it is about how much taxpayers’ money has been wasted in all the years the BN government has been in power. Their grandiose expenditure on overseas trips and the sumptuous servings at every bureaucratic event, the endless white elephant projects and leakage of funds to cronies – these are the issues that should be tackled together with a ballooning oil subsidy.

As is typical for Malaysia, everyone is equal but some are more equal than the others. Even in suffering and struggles, some of us will struggle much more than the others.

The UMNO/BN cronies, the Ananda Krishnans and Tony Fernandez-es will feel nothing over paying RM 2.70 per liter of petrol. They will resume life as though life never changed. The snatch thieves will continue to snatch and the rapists continue to rape. Some of us though, will have to grapple not only with a steep increase in fuel prices and later on essential items, but also the task of raising a child till the age of 25 without very little possibility of any aid in the form of boarding schools, matriculation or government scholarships in the process.

This I’m afraid, is the reality of Malaysia.


Kong said...

No matter how you looked at it, this fuel subsidy is a BAD thing and has to be removed. You are merely complaining about the 'How' and 'When' but not touched on the reason "Why" it should be removed. With your intelligent, you could have touched a bit more on the last item.

CJ said...

That i am afraid too. Seems inevitable tho. Let's brace ourselves for the tough time ahead.

cute little angel said...

I really like the way you narrated the whole thing. It puts us in that situation and makes us realise how bad the downstream effects are. It's a tough life out there and will only get tougher. I disagree with Kong when he said that u failed to explain why the price hike should be removed. You did that most beautifully by the little stories about citizens from all walks of life and diverse age groups. Keep on up the good work:) I'm hooked already and I hope you don't mind me linking your blog to mine.

Kong said...

Let me put it in another way. The writing is down-to-earth and touching about the unpleasant effects it has on ordinary Malaysian. Great writing. But I find the writing one sided because the negative consequences of not increasing fuel prices aren't being mentioned.

I know POTS has the intelligent and hopefully, maturity as well, to say what most people don't like to hear aka the bad things that will happen if fuel prices aren't increased. And I am sure there are. So how about it, POTS?