Recently, I interviewed some fresh graduates applying for jobs with my engineering company. I accepted two applicants on a starting salary of RM1600. It struck me as odd that 15 years ago, I myself started work as a fresh graduate engineer for the same pay.
Indeed, if you compare the salaries of graduates now and 15 or even 20 years ago, you’ll find little difference but that their purchasing power is vastly different. It’s the same story when you compare salaries of shop assistants, office staff, factory workers and others.
To compound the effect of inflation, the ringgit has depreciated greatly against all major currencies. The real income of most Malaysians has moved backwards.
This is why many Malaysians suffer under the petrol hike. The root of the problem is that our real incomes have shrunk in the face of inflation and depreciated currency. Malaysians have not been spoiled by subsidy but are unable to move out of the time lock of stagnated and depreciated incomes.
If you compare the per capita incomes of Singapore, Hong Kong, Taiwan and South Korea, they are a few multiples of ours although at independence all these countries were the on the same economic level as Malaysia.
What has gone wrong? We were the rising star of East Asia, a country rich in natural resources with the most promising potential.
The reason is massive corruption, plundering of resources, wastage of funds for huge non- economic projects, anti-public interest deals with politically-linked companies and passing-of-the -buck to the man in the street.
Four decades of NEP where education, economic and employment policies are defined by race ensured that meritocracy took a back seat.
Our university standard has declined and the today best and brightest of our youth emigrate to escape the racial inequility only to contribute to the economies of foreign lands.
The reputation of our judiciary which was held in high esteem worldwide has sunk so low that foreign investors now insist on arbitration in Singapore in case of any dispute.
We also have a slew of oppressive laws such as the ISA, OSA, Uuca and PPPA which stifle free speech and are designed to keep the ruling parties in power.
We have become less attractive to foreign investors and now lag behind our neighbours in Asean for foreign direct investment. Even some corporations who have established themselves here are moving out.
All the economic and social malaise cannot help but affect the value of our currency. The strength of a country's currency is after all, a reflection of its fundamentals.
Furthermore, Bank Negara has a policy of weak ringgit to help exporters, never mind the burden on the common folk. The government is pro-corporation, not pro- rakyat .
While the poor and middle-class are squeezed, an elite group gets breathtakingly rich. We have the distinction of having the worse income disparity in Asean. A re-distribution of wealth is under way from the poor and middle-class to a select group of politically-connected elite.
The end result of this re-distribution will be a small group of super-rich while the majority are pushed into poverty and the middle-class shrinks. This is what happens when the rich gets richer and the poor get poorer.
There is much that is wrong with Malaysia. The responsibility for pulling the country backwards can be laid squarely at the door of the ruling regime. It is BN's mis-governance, racial politics and culture of patronage which has seen the country regress economically and socially.
We seem to be sliding down a slippery slope, further down with each passing year of BN's rule. Another five years of BN rule and we’ll be at Indonesia’s standard under Suharto. Another 10 years and we’ll be touching the African standard. What a way to greet 2020.
Is there any hope for Malaysia? Faced with the reality that BN will never change, many Malaysians desperate for change turn their lonely eyes to Anwar Ibrahim.
Pakatan Raykat has promised to treat all races fairly, to plug wastage, fight corruption, reform the judiciary and make Malaysia more competitive. But some have questioned whether we can trust Anwar and his loose coalition of disparate parties.
The question is not whether we can trust Anwar and Pakatan Rakyat but whether we can afford not to. Can we afford another ten years of BN's misrule?