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I know the government of the day claims that Malaysia has made tremendous progress in the last 50 years. I also note sadly that the chief minister of Selangor had the audacity to declare Selangor a 'developed state' based on his own definition of what 'developed' means. Seems to me he is still living under his 'tempurung' but more of that later.

When I joined the government as a freshie engineer back in 1983, my salary was about RM1,100. My fellow graduates who joined the private sector were offered between RM1,500 to RM1,800. Some lucky ones that joined multinationals or organisations such as Petronas could boast a salary close to RM3,000 per month.

Back then with that salary, I could afford the repayment of a loan for a brand new 1.5 liter Japanese sedan. I could afford to rent a nice terrace house and a few years later had enough savings for the down payment of a spacious double-storey terrace house in the middle-class suburb of Subang Jaya, which cost about RM140,000.

We were then labeled a third world country but generally life was good. Not luxurious but we had nothing much to complain about. A visit to the local doctor cost about RM20 or less, there were no mobile phone bills to pay, utilities bill in total rarely exceeded RM50 per month. Petrol, believe it or not, cost 90 sen per litre.

Today I live in Khir Toyo's 'developed state' of Selangor. I see thousands of graduates are unemployed. Those lucky to be employed earn a meagre starting salary of RM1,500. Employers generally look for staff that have their own transport as public transportation is unreliable. So the newly employed tries to buy a car and the only car he can afford will be a Kancil (the brand new Japanese sedan I bought in 1984 still looks so much bigger and better than our national car in 2007).

Petrol now costs almost RM2 per litre. There seems to be toll to pay at every corner, and in increasing amounts every couple of years. If our graduate decides to live in PJ, rent is exorbitant so he decides to rent a room in the suburbs and commute. That means petrol and toll and parking is eating away about RM500 of the hard-earned salary. After repaying the car loan and room rent, he has hardly RM200 left to buy food. How about cell phone and phone bills?

What happens if our graduate falls ill? A visit to the GP will set him back at least RM50 if he is cured after one visit. With university standard of teaching falling year after year, I will not be surprised that our graduate has to visit several doctors before he gets cured.

So how have we as a nation progressed economically over the last 50 years? It is obvious that our employed graduate (God help the many thousands that are not even employed) is close to starvation in Khir Toyo's developed state.

How about those that have already benefitted from the nation's progress? Inflation is much higher than the government reports. Just the other day, I found the same carton of milk that cost RM4.50 a year ago now costs RM5.20. Many neighbourhoods have to pay for private security or risk being robbed. Standard of teaching in schools is so low that almost every child is tortured with tuition classes costing hundreds of dwindling ringgits.

In this developed state, water filter companies do a thriving business of selling you water filters (one outside and one inside the house - just to be safe) because after 50 years neither the quality nor the colour of water supply has improved. This despite billions spent on privatisation deals instead of improving the basic infrastructure. Cost of electricity has gone up several times because of private power generation companies that are given guaranteed fat returns on their investments.

Have we progressed as a nation? Not by a long shot.

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