The effects of the oil price hike are starting to burn in. Transport companies are charging more. Bus companies are demanding for an increase in charges. Taxi operators are threatening to hike fares, with some already going against the rules and doing it. An increased transport cost means groceries will cost more. Traders start charging more for goods. Food stalls and restaurants charge higher prices. Just about everything will cost a little bit more.
As usual, we will have statements from leaders warning traders not to increase prices. 'Enforcement teams' will conduct 'spot checks' and 'operasis'. The press usually play along. Officers from the Ministry of Domestic Trade will be photographed checking the prices of onions in pasar malams, inspecting mamak restaurants to check on the price of maggi goreng. "Traders who increase prices unreasonably will be punished" the minister in charge would often be quoted saying. In reality, few people know that these enforcement teams can only check on two things. First, the price of controlled items, i.e. rice, cooking oil, etc. Second, they make sure restaurants properly display the prices. That's all. So the nasi kandar shop next door can actually charge you RM100 for a piece of fried chicked, and nobody can do a damn thing, as long as that green board on the wall, usually above the cash counter displays it correctly. Ayam goreng - RM100. That's all they need to do. No minister and no enforcement team can do a thing about it.
So as transport charges increase and traders jack up grocery prices and restaurants charge us more, one thing remains. Our salaries. Most Malaysians, work for a paycheck at the end of the month. Government servants or corporate employee, from engineers to drivers, teachers to policemen, office boy to executive, the salary we receive every month is used to pay for a house, a car, groceries, bills, children's education etc. Hopefully there's a little left at the end of the month for some savings, and perhaps a treat or two. It's this little extra that's always the first to go. But prices will continue to increase. So what happens? Belts tighten. People look for ways to cut expenses. Others try to increase earning. I read with both interest and concern, when the government gave the nod to government servants to take up part time jobs over the weekend. Well, that's one way to cope with increasing prices, sure, but what about quality of life? What about spending time with families? Is that not important too? As I write this article from Sydney, the Australian way of life really impresses me. Even a driver or security guard here would earn enough to lead a comfortable life. Can we say the same for Malaysians? People having to work two jobs to feed themselves is a sign of severe inflation. It's not a sign of a progressive economy, an Asian tiger knocking on the doors of developed nations, aiming to be one among them. No, we have not 'arrived'. In fact we're going backwards.
The Minister of Tourism was quoted in the press saying that Malaysians should consider holidaying locally and not overseas to cut expenditure. We spend billions abroad she adds. Hello, Datuk Seri, people don't have enough money to eat lah, what holiday you talking about? More often than not, those who could afford overseas holidays before the price hike, will still afford overseas holidays after the price hike. They don't belong in the low income category. It's the urban poor, the lower middle class who are hit hardest by increasing prices, not the jet-setting businessmen and holidaying millionaires.
Speaking of holidays, Datuk Seri Azalina asks that we holiday in Malaysia but she as a Minister qualifies for a paid holiday in any Asean destination! That too, only after her perks as a minster have been 'cut'. Before it was anywhere in the world, mind you, when all along we have been promoting Cuti-cuti Malaysia. I don't know if it's just me, but the Prime Minister announcing the reduction in ministerial perks appears to have angered more than pacified the people. Few people probably even knew before this that we've been paying for our ministers to holiday first class in Paris. Now we're only paying for them to holiday first class in Phuket apparently. What austerity! What a sacrifice!