I refer to the letter by Paul Ooi of Colorado entitled Oil prices in Malaysia still cheaper. I must say Ooi's comparison of petrol prices in Malaysia and the US is not logical, to say the least. He implies that we Malaysians should not be so agitated over the recent hike in petrol prices because we are paying US$2 per gallon while the Americans, Japanese and Hong Kongites are paying US$2.35, US$3.50 and US$4.50 respectively.
I am totally surprised that it did not occur to a well-traveled person like Ooi that Malaysians make much less than the people in the three places he named. Malaysia has a GDP per capita of US$10,400 while the United States, Japan and Hong Kong have a GDP per capita of US$41,800, US$30,400 and US$36,800 respectively. Now, is Ooi actually saying that someone who makes US$10,000 a year and pays US$2 for each gallon of petrol is better off than a person who makes US$40,000 a year but pays US$2.35 (a mere US$0.35 more) for each gallon of petrol? Doesn't make that much sense, does it?
I'm tired of the usual banner of 'oil prices in Malaysia are still cheaper when compared to others' every time price hikes take place. The government must think we Malaysians are a bunch of donkeys. The fact is, despite the mediocre education the government gives to most of us, we can actually do simple maths. If the government had really done its job all these decades, we would not be plagued by corruption and wastage and would be doing so much better in the income and purchasing power departments. The issue of oil subsidy would not even arise as we can then afford to pay for unsubsidised fuel.
The government also launches into elaborate explanations as to why we need to reduce subsidies for fuel and inject the salvaged money into 'much needed' development. But since the past four or five price hikes, our development has remained at that -' much needed'. Can anybody honestly say that the public transportation system in our country has improved ever so tremendously so as to finally allow us to depend on it to get to work, to school, to the market, the court, the hospital, for meetings, etc?
Okay, so we understand the pressing economic need to put our money in development, money which will otherwise be wasted away in fuel subsidies. Understanding, however, does not put food on our tables. Despite our comprehension of the economics of fuel subsidies, we still cannot make ends meet. I'm not against the idea of development. It's just that for the past 18 months or so, petrol prices have increased about 40%, diesel prices about 100% and I have not had 1% of increase in my pay. How, pray tell, am I supposed to cope with this increase in the cost of living? The saying goes that by the time you can make ends meet, they move the ends. In my case, I was not even close to making the ends meet, and they have already moved the ends.
For the benefit of Ooi, I present the typical monthly expenses of a middle-income earner in Kuala Lumpur:
Salary: RM2,600 (after EPF and tax deductions)
Car loan: RM500
Study loan: RM200
Phone and Internet: RM150
Petrol (lives a distance away from KL to take advantage of lower house rent) - new price: RM600
Salary left for food: RM490
No savings, no entertainment budget, no new clothing, not much to give the family. And when the time is up for car insurance and road tax, credit card debt is incurred. Please don't tell this person to take public transport. First of all, public transport does not reach where he is living. Secondly, I really would not dare to ask him to rely on the public transport to get to work and meetings on time. If he is a lawyer, then he definitely does not want to take public transport unless he doesn't mind his cases being struck out by the court due to his late appearance.
If that is the life of a middle-income earner, my heart really goes out to the low-income earner.
I do not think Malaysians are being unreasonable about the hike in fuel prices. Trying to make ends meet and making sure the family has enough food is not unreasonable. Feeling desperate and angry when price hikes takes away the ability to buy enough food for the family is not unreasonable. Unreasonable is when one complains about having to buy less Gucci shoes. Unreasonable is when one tells his countrymen to change their already marginalised lifestyles when he himself is driven around in luxury cars while living in mansions and having his petrol paid for by the rakyat's taxmoney. Unreasonable is when one tells people earning less than RM1,000 a month to tighten their already tight belts when he himself dines on the finest food in the finest ambience.
Coming back to Ooi, since he had so selflessly offered advice to spendthrift and inconsiderate petrol-gulping Malaysians to change their lifestyle, allow me to reciprocate his kindness. My advice to Ooi is to come back to Malaysia, make Malaysian ringgit and pay US$2 for a gallon of petrol. Ooi can also practise what he preaches about reviewing 'our petrol consumption patterns'. In saying this, Ooi joins Noor Yahaya Hamzah of New Zealand in admonishing Malaysians over their reluctance to walk or ride a bicycle instead of taking the car.
Notice how these people are always those who live outside Malaysia? They give their patronising advice from their comfortable homes in First World countries with First World incomes and comfortable climate. It would not be so easy to mete out such generous advice if you were living in a Third World developing nation with your Third World income and sweltering heat.