Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Housing and Food - actual determinants of living standard.

You can list down all the things that determine one's comfort in life and standard of living, from a palatial home to luxury cars, expensive wardrobe and a beautiful wive (or wives/mistresses). As your earning power increases and more money pours into your bank account, the list will increase. One thing you can be quite sure of, the list will expand faster than the figures in your income account, unless fortune had been smiling on you all the while. I say it's fortune that makes one super-rich and wealthy for many astute businessmen,traders, whiz kids, film stars, musicians, conmen etc work just as hard as their counterparts, but never make it rich. The super-rich, of course, do not worry about their bank account for others are working their asses out to make money for them. It's those who have to work hard to attain and maintain a comfortable life, who find that the cost of modern living is eating away at their bank account faster than the increase it enjoys.millionaires' abode

That's certainly true of life in Malaysia with rapid development and urbanization. The super-rich have no problem for their fortunes sometimes ride on the crest of the developmental waves, if not on the misfortune of those who are overtaxed,underpaid and over-worked to generate the wealth of the nation.The wealthy barons, mandarins and 'towkays' (magnates and businessmen) , for instance, harvest a great fortune everytime a new legislative measure or a major development project is launched by government, such as the imposition of using seat belts in cars, the use of safety helmets, expanding the use of computers throughout the country and in schools and offices, the modernization of roads and the transportation system, the raising of standards in housing and commercial buildings etc. Every such new law usually makes certain financial imposition on the common citizen, shrinking the value of his or her earnings.only for the rich and wealthy

With the constant reduction of the worker's savings, the acquisition of the essentials of life becomes a more strenuous job. The price of these essentials in the market keeps going up, sometimes at a ludicrous pace. Most essential among the essentials are housing, means of transportation and foodstuff.New laws and regulations usually affect production cost, causing the market price of these essentials to go up like a hot-air balloon. In the case of housing, the price has reached the million ringgit mark even for a modest home while even the locally produced cars are now causing the common worker to be in debt for up to nine years. Studies have been made to show that housing and car purchase had made the Malaysians with a four-figure income a heavy debtor. Those who can be classified as "middle class wage earners" before have found it almost impossible to buy a house in KL while luxury cars are out of question. You must be a millionaire to own a condominium in Mount Kiara, Seri Harta Mas, UK Perdana, and many of the new posh housing areas.the prices can be astounding

On can of course regulate one's expenditure on foodstuff. But how can you go without some of the most ordinary items like chicken, beef and vegees when the price of these items keep escalating, especially at times of insufficient supply. During this month of Ramadhan when the Muslims are fasting, the prices of goodies at the Pasar Ramadhan are almost unbelievable. You certainly don't get much for RM10 and RM50 is insufficient to buy enough food and delicacies for a family of four. Chances are the prices of foodstuff as set by the Pasar Ramadhan hawkers will be carried over to the normal market after Hariraya. There doesn't seem to be any control at all over prices although government is well aware of the price hikes on all food items. The most disturbing increase in the price of food items is for beef, chicken, and fish. This is not to say that the price increase for food grains and vegetable is not hurting the average wage earner.

Since Housing and Food are the two items in modern living that makes the difference between rich and poor, comfortable and miserable, dignified and shameful, something must be done to ensure that the average wage-earner in this country can afford them to maintain a decent level. As for transport facilities, we do have local cars that are quite affordable and public transport that is quite dependable though far from praiseworthy.Unless these aspects of life in Malaysia is looked into the quest for becoming a high income nation may end up in a flurry of inflation and the impoverization of the average wage earner.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Law of Diminishing Value

We all know the law of diminishing returns in economics. Simply put it states that adding another factor to a process of production will increase the cost per unit output, or will even reduce output as in the case of using too much fertilizer in farming. Thus the more of the factor used the less the gain per unit of input.
But we are not talking economics here. We are talking about human satisfaction. Why is it that people keep buying more and more things everyday- and in many cases they are the same thing but maybe different in brand - and yet feeling less and less satisfied with what they have? Let's take some examples. A family had just one car before and everyone was happy sharing it to go wherever they want. A member of the family finds it too difficult to share and buys another one when he could afford it. Soon another member will feel dissatisfied with with the kind of sharing that takes place and buys another one.That goes on until there are too many cars in the family and everyone is not very satisfied with his or her car as compared to the one owned by the parents, brother or sister, especially with the parking facility. So, there is less satisfaction all around with the addition of every car.
You don't agree? What about the house you stay in itself. Before you all stay happily in your parents home. Then you and your brothers or sisters split up and buy your own houses. Visits and get togethers were very satisfying at first. Soon they become less and less and the visits, even to the parents' home become lees pleasing, becoming more of a chore each time. Visits between brothers and sisters also become scarcer and scarcer, with reduced satisfaction each time over little things that the separation and the competition in life had brought about. I don't even want to raise problems with in-laws which can make such visits less and less desirable. So the many houses and homes as one factor in human life had brought less and less or reduced satisfaction to the family.
You don't agree with that too? Let's check our own habits. I had only two or three good shirts before and one or two pairs of shoes. I was very happy with them. As my income increases I could afford more shirts and shoes. especially since the fashion people keep offering new and expensive designs to flatter my ego. My wardrobe becomes fuller and I soon don't care much about which shirt or pair of shoes I wore, becoming less satisfied with each after some time and wanting to buy more. Clearly the value I attached to each shirt or pair of shoes had decreased so much than before.

Well, agree or not that's how things are. The more we have the less value we attach to the thing that we used to treasure when there was only one of it. Perhaps that will explain why the kids of today don't value much the things that we most desire and treasure before, and the possession of which made us feel like a million-dollar boy (or girl). Fashion changes and we keep buying and piling up almost everything that we must have in modern life, going for the newest and most expensive brand to outdo each other. In the end we end up with a plethora of unvalued things, cluttering the wardrobes, the cupboard, the bedrooms and in fact the entire house. The only things with real undiminishing values are the memorabilia from old times which really might have no intrinsic monetary worth. The rest will all become junks one day.

Especially to our kids of the next generation.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Integrity Unit in All Government Agencies...

The setting up an Integrity Unit to combat corruption in all government agencies (STM July 14 - Sunday) in Malaysia, is a very heartening news. While the MACC has been very active and had achieved much to reduce corruption in Malaysia, the country remains high on the list of countries plagued by this degenerative socio-economic malady. The interesting thing is that we also hear much about law enforcement officers "on-the-take" in many other developed countries. But the country as a whole remains low on the list. It reminds me of the legal joke very popular in the US, that a crime is only a crime if discovered and brought to court. (Otherwise it's not a crime, seems to be the obvious conclusion!).

At one time the Anti Corruption Agency or ACA as the central government agency dealing with corruption was known, was reputed to take action only on the small time law breakers - the little fries. The big sharks holding prominent positions in government or in the Malaysian society, were never brought to court. Why? Nobody knew for certain because sharks have the whole ocean to run around and hide while the ACA was only a small government agency. On becoming a full scale Commission with wide powers and investigative capacity the MACC had succeeded in recent years to pull in some big names in the government, including an ex-chief Minister. But as usual when the big fish are found guilty of a crime, the ocean of legal processes offer a lot of whirlpools and eddies to prevent them from receiving the full blast of the punitive waves. The big fish always escape from being caught and dried up in the sun like the small fries.

The Integrity Unit will offer a CCFTV effect within the agency it is set up. Provided the officers operating the Unit are really 'clean individuals' and free of any suspicion or protected against charges made by their compatriots within the same agency or outside of it, the Unit can certainly become a big scare - the fist thing in any preventive move. The second part of the scare is in the punishment accorded to those found guilty. We must take into account the general knowledge that intelligent criminals do no work alone. So, if all officers involved in a certain case were to be dismissed, government agencies might run the danger of losing many officers with every case brought up for investigation. Nevertheless, it is better to run a smaller agency with no corruption than a huge one with a lot of money going 'under the table'.

Now comes the big question. If all government officers have been cured of the disease through fear and the CCTV effect, yet corruption goes in national and international monetary transaction involving huge sums of money, whom must then be blamed? On must remember than governmental bureaucracy nowadays is not ruled by officers chosen and selected through the bureaucratic processes. Public Officials include those who come through the elective processes, elected by the people and the parties in power. Is the Malaysian public ready to take action on those that it has elected into power if they are found to be guilty of corruption? Especially when the legal processes are so intricate that the public cannot understand how the legal department works,such that many suspected officials cannot be brought to court for lack of 'substantial evidence'.

Clearly, integrity is an ethical thing. A crime against it cannot be enforced just at the agency level. It must be enforced at the national level involving officers both selected and promoted through the bureaucratic processes as well as those installed through the elective processes at both the State and party level.

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Ramadhan is Here Again....

Ramadan , the most sanctified month in the Islamic calendar, is just around the corner and will be here before you can get the old bone-shaker out of the workshop. We here in Malaysia enjoy peace and stability, despite some protests against the result of GE13. But elsewhere in the Islamic world especially Syria, Egypt, Iraq, Pakistan etc., the Arab Spring scourge continues to take its toll in the lives of the so-called Islamic brethren. Allah's prescription that the blood of a Muslim is 'haram' to another Muslim, seemed to be totally neglected.Right or Wrong, the Final Outcome

Over here the Muslim are excited to usher in the month of piety, forgiveness, reticence in food-intake, wayward behavior or verbal criticisms, and in contrast to the restraints, the plethora of food and delicacies which will be on sale. In no other month will the supermarkets, the malls, the shops and the car-park or road-side stalls in Malaysia be so packed with goods and goodies to cater for the Muslims who fast by day and feast by night.Of course the non-Muslims can also enjoy the myriads of traditional Malay dishes and delicacies that will suddenly fill the markets. Come afternoon in the month of Ramadan, the food stalls will be so jam-packed with people buying food for breaking their fast, while the aroma of chicken, beef and various delicacies being cooked in situ, can make breathing a little difficult but most appetizing.Allah can certainly see your face

It's most saddening to think of what will happen in the countries where the Muslims are at war against our just quarreling among their own countrymen? Will they have time to fulfill the requirements of Ramadan, both physically and spiritually? Couldn't they forget politics, power struggle and the different approaches in their understanding of Islam (such as the Shiites vs the Sunnis)for the period of the holy month at least? Before they start killing each other can't they think of themselves as Muslims first and that they are just killing their own brothers? Don't they realize who are smiling at them and perhaps saying to themselves: "Go ahead, kill each other. We'll have less enemies to be bothered with."Face of Sadness n Misery in Ramadan?

Look around ye Muslims. Call yourselves peaceful people but who are creating the problems now? Even if you realize that some foreign elements might be sowing the seed of enmity and dissension between us in the name of fighting for freedom and democracy, we are the ones who are destroying our own unity and brotherhood. Prophet Mohammed (Peace be Upon Him) had said that the Muslims will be broken up into 23 different groups and would be fighting each other for supremacy. Are we, therefore, not helping to make the prophetic warning become a reality faster than the warning of the prophets of doom that the world will run short of food and humanity will perish? With the coming of Ramadan - the month of intensifying our prayers and seeking Allah's blessings- wouldn't it be most appropriate to take a hard look at ourselves in the light what Allah has designated the Muslims to be on this earth, and make peace with ourselves and our brothers of the same faith. If the Prophet (PBUH) could make peace with the enemies who wanted to kill him, couldn't we at least make peace with our brothers to honor Allah's injunction "kullu Muslimina ikhwatun."

Let's begin the month of Ramadan with a prayer and a pledge that we Muslims will not kill each other for whatever reason that our minds can create to justify our action. Let's talk things over peacefully as we proceed to observe the restrictions of Ramadan and not insult the month when Allah delivered the al-Quran to us through Gibrail and when the gates of repentance are thrown wide open and Satans are all held at bay. While we in Malaysia will celebrate Ramadan in peace with our non-Muslim countrymen,we pray that out Muslim brothers who are at war among themselves to fight for a worldly cause, can turn their attention to the spiritual pursuit of peace and forgiveness from Allah.

Monday, July 1, 2013

Blue Sky and Sunshine Again.

After a week or so of thick haze and gloominess, the API reaching a hazardous level when people have to wear masks, we are happy to see blue sky and sunshine again. The cloud seeding efforts to produce rain undertaken by Indonesia and Malaysia (?) to wash away the haze seemed to have worked. Congratulations to the Authorities concerned. The arguments and damage done by the spell of gloominess and haziness can now be forgotten and the culprits who understood the open burning in Sumatra can be forgotten. Until it happens again....

The attitude 'let things be until people start to complain and scream..' seems to become a habit with us in Malaysia. Yes it's good way of getting things done with maximum impact. If things are done before people cry out for action, they never notice the action taken, accepting things for granted. After things hit them in the nose, then any quick action to stop it will be met with applause. It's a simple children psychology. Give them only those that they have begged and screamed for to make them really happy. And also give them a little at a time. Give them too much and you spoil them.

The haze has been happily done away with. Now how about the water woe? This has become a prolonged malady because, at least in Selangor,the blame can be shifted elsewhere. Solving the problem quickly will bring an applause for the wrong party. This is another strategy to bring an enemy to terms, even if thousands must suffer the consequences. It'a sad that public convenience must be traded to gain political mileage, but as Shakespeare said, "Everything is fair and foul in love and war." Enemies don't cooperate until the very foundation of a nation starts to shake. The fear is, nothing can be done to save the situation, when the pillars of trust and confidence begin to crumble. Let's hope that that doesn't happen just because of the water woe...the drinkable water tanks running dry because of dispute in ownership and control. Even in the Arab countries the days are gone when the tribe who owns the water well owns the land around it.

There certainly are many other things that need to be reviewed in this country. The cost of things - everything from the supply of modern equipment to the price of a loaf of bread - needs to be reviewed if the status of a high income nation and providing a higher income level for the Malaysians are to mean anything at all. Every time a mega project is launched or a huge purchase of modern equipment or weaponry from a foreign country is made,the deal is fraught with doubts in respect of it's cost and transparency. One can always hear of a possibly cheaper cost and better quality. The same may be said of building and construction costs. The overheads seem to be just ludicrous but no one can prove anything. Even the Auditor-General would not be able to suggest a more acceptable costing or cost standard beside commenting on the overblown expenditure for certain purchases.

What the public can actually feel to be the result of uncontrolled or unchecked pricing, is the rising costs of household goods and consumer itsms. The price of the so-called controlled items such as rice, beef, chicken etc may be quite understandable though still arguable. But the vegees, the chills, the onions, the fish including salted ones like 'ikan bills' have more than doubled in prices. I was amazed to see the price of bread, before selling at a ringgit plus per loaf, now going up to three ringgit or more. A box of self-raising cake flour and a small round box of margarine costed me nearly forty ringgit. Oh, my God, I thought. I might as well just buy a ready made cake at that price, although just a slice of cheese cake at a reputed restaurant can cost up to ten ringgit. Imagine what a RM100 increase in salary per year means too a worker. Just ten additional slices of cheese cake,and your earned that increase after a year of hard work.

Prices of consumer goods and food items in the market must certainly undergo certain form of checks and control. When RM50 is not enough to buy food items for the kitchen to feed a family of four for one day, an earning of less than RM3000 a month is really living in a state of near poverty.NST's Report on July 7 p.4