Price Hikes and The New Year

Jalur Gemilang ..flying high and proud

Jalur Gemilang ..flying high and proud

What a start to the new year 2014! Just when about everyone in the world would gather in merriment to bid adieu to the year that was and usher in the year that will be with hopes high for a good and prosperous year ahead, we Malaysians were treated to a new form of ushering the new year, WITH a difference.

In this new version of celebrating the dawn of a new year, there is no such thing as the gathering of men (and women and child) and the spreading of good will to all. Instead, this new version is a mixed cocktail of uncouth behaviour, misplaced indignation, anarchy and lawlessness and a wanton disregard for the rights of OTHERS, leaving behind a bitter aftertaste of dashed expectations, a sense of impending doom and utter disappointment for the year ahead.

The irony in all this is that the ‘OTHERS’ are the silent majority whose collective voice are seldom heard or made heard in the public domain. It is the very same collective voice whose is always looked upon suspiciously and with disbelief every time the collective voice makes its presence felt especially at the polling booth. As if the collective voice does not know how to make a decision and decide what is est or which is better, for that matter.

Seldom heard in the public domain, you might ask? Why, pray tell, is that the case? Ask any Malaysian on the street and most, if not all, will tell you, in private, what they think and what they feel on bread and butter issues.

Their thoughts and their sentiments on these issues resonate with each other loud and clear, for it will not be wrong to say that most Malaysians will agree on most issues, common are the values shared by most Malaysians.

Tenaga Nasional Berhad (TNB).  (source : tnb.com..my)

Tenaga Nasional Berhad (TNB).
(source : tnb.com..my)

But to air their opinions in public? Not and until they are pushed to the extreme, and even that can stretch quite a bit.

At this moment in time, undeniably, the main bone of contention is the rise in prices which will hit Malaysians in 2014. Admittedly the rise in prices will hit the man on the street in almost all facets of life as he currently knows it.

To be fair, Malaysians have already been forewarned of the impending increase in prices. However, the most controversial of all these increases is arguably the price of electricity, an increase that no matter how the powers that be try to justify and clarify, is not appreciated by the man on the street and will be the most difficult to accept especially in this day and age when almost every household gadget runs on electricity.

The fact that the business of supplying electricity to the general public is, by all means and purposes, a monopoly run by a Government-linked company (GLC), Tenaga Nasional Berhad (TNB), who is also a listed entity with its shares quoted on the local bourse, Bursa Malaysia, makes it an easy picking of an issue for the Opposition parties and the opposition-linked non-governmental organizations (NGOs), of which they are many to begin with.

For the man on the street, the rise in the price of electricity does not come at the vest of times and the general feeling is that the latest round of the increase in price does not make sense.

And there are, at the same time, those who speculate that the rise in the price of electricity is more to appease foreign-owned financiers who subscribed to TNB’s shares and financial papers rather than the comfort and well-being of the Malaysian public.

Whether such speculation is unfounded or not unwarranted, that’s another issue for no one denies that GLCs have to be profitable, for how else do they justify not only their existence to the general public (and their fat pay checks) but the question is, at what cost and what and who takes precedence between the interests of the public and the shareholders?

shopping at a Malaysian hypermarket (source : infoway.co)

shopping at a Malaysian hypermarket
(source : infoway.co)

In all the hoopla, the fact that the costs of generating electricity has increased, first with the price of oil being traded up into the stratosphere by oil traders looking for a quick buck (and ensuring their already fat commissions get fatter), and later followed by the increase in coal prices (these two being the main components for power generating plants in Malaysia), were getting lost on the increasingly sceptical public.
Alternative means of generating power has yet to gain ground and even that, the technology is, as some may argue, not yet economically viable. How long before alternative energy sources becomes economically viable is anyone’s guess and til then, we just have to make do with the proven technology that we have now.

Price increases on general and household goods has to be looked at rationally for one can argue that the price increases can be attributed more to the removal and lowering of subsidies (and thus increase savings made by the Government) rather than an actual increase in prices.

Take the case of sugar. When the Government tabled their Budget 2014 in Parliament, it was stated that the prices of sugar will be increased due to the removal of subsidies. As a mean to justify the removal of subsidies on sugar, the Federal Government chose to highlight the increase in diabetic cases and the rise in obesity, both rather noticeably amongst the young, due to the high intake of sugar as a contributing factor.

This may be acceptable to some but to most, it sounded rather lame despite having some truth to it. The decision of the mainstream media to highlight the increase in diabetic and obesity cases as if it was the main factor behind the perceived increase in sugar prices to headline the next day’s newspapers did the Government a disservice and not help smoothen the acceptance level of the general public.

Give the Malaysian public its due and respect. Just say that the price increase is due to the removal of subsidies and surprise, surprise… the public may have accepted it with an open heart albeit a heavy one.

The fact of the matter is that prices will increase in 2014, like it or not for these increases are unavoidable. The timing may suck (as the young would say) but which country in the world does not have increase in prices.

The increase in prices will hurt every household in the country, especially middle-income households. But does it? And should it? After all they are many instances of everyday life today that we Malaysians take for granted.

Do we need to have cable or satellite TV? Maybe yes (weekends of English Premier League football and yes, Malaysian Super League, Liverpool winning, Man U losing and JDT I and II) but more than one decoder?

kl club scene (source : kualalumpur.home.net.my)

kl club scene
(source : kualalumpur.home.net.my)

Do we need to go clubbing every weekend and every Wednesdays? Do we really need to go clubbing, period?

Do we really need to eat out every other day of the week?

Do we really need that much sugar in our drinks? Aren’t they other types of sugar eg brown sugar, ‘gula batu’, gula merah’ etc etc that can be an alternative?

Does designer coffee or kopi luwak taste any different from our local made-in-Malaysia coffee?

And do we really need air conditioners in every room of our house?

We may have to re-educate our palates and our bodies to get to the answer. And talking of re-education, maybe those people demonstrating and creating a havoc during the planned New Year celebrations in Kuala Lumpur need to do just that. To take a step back and to re-evaluate themselves.

The answer lies not in demonstrating, showing off so an uncouth behaviour as if it’s a competition of who can be more ‘kurang ajar’ than the other, and showing utter disregard for the rights of others but in increased efforts to make the situation better by themselves for themselves and for their families, quietly and with no fuss, as what most normal hard-working, resilient and conscientious citizens do and are doing.

Cliche, you say? Maybe. But have a look around and you would be surprised by what you’ll discover.

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