Tuesday, 8 September 2015

"I see foreign people."

Our friends in the south are having something called an 'election.' Apparently, they poll and cast votes and choose the wisest man or woman to lead their nation for a few years. This is called a 'democracy,' I'm told.

One of the hottest topics in the Singaporean election is the topic of foreign workers. Singaporeans argue that too many foreign workers take up Singaporean jobs, at a margin that's something like 1 in every 10. Of course, like Malaysia, most jobs like customer service, waitstaff, and menial labour go to foreign workers. However, unlike Malaysia, a ton of high-level executive positions are given to foreigners, too. This is probably what bothers Singaporeans most: High-paying jobs in their own country are going to pendatangs. Hmm.

Malaysia, however, sits comfortably in the hands of its own people. Company executives, CEOs, and the like, are mostly Malaysians. Malaysians of every colour, every religion, from every corner of the country. This makes me very happy. It's one of the things I ponder on whenever things get a little hairy. The reason for this is because, Malaysia offers great things to those who make a decent living. There's freedom of lifestyle, with little restriction on car ownership (another bane of contention for our southern friends), a decent quality of life is guaranteed, and our EPF schemes aren't half bad. Sure, income tax is ridiculous, but that's for another day.

We suffer from having to host a large number of foreigners, too. However, the situation here is different. Here, our foreign labour is restricted almost exclusively to low-level labour-intensive positions. Our nation was built on the backs of hardworking foreign labour, and that's just the reality of things. They clean our streets, they maintain the order of our offices, they make our food and they clean up after us. At home, they watch over our children, they layan our elderly relatives, and they cook according to what we want (with some success).

We don't like our foreigners because they come here in questionable circumstances ("Ada permit ke tidak ni?"), send a bulk of their earnings abroad (which aids the continued devaluation of the Ringgit), pretend like laws don't apply to them (have you seen how they treat our sewage systems?!), and a considerable number of them turn to a life of crime (I have met three foreign weed dealers in my travels). I think our distress at the foreign labour issue is warranted, especially when the media tell us we'll be looking at over a million of them on our soil as soon as 2020. Pretty sure that wasn't a part of Tun Mahathir's Wawasan.

To my Singaporean friends, read on. Your issue is with the number of highly-educated foreigners filling top-level positions. Please understand that many of us flock to the City State because you offer a better, more stable, more orderly quality of life than the nations we come from. The fact of the matter is, your foreigners aren't quite like ours. They don't run amok like ours do. Lain keadaan, bro. I'll be damned if I see my boss, a Ph.D holder, litter and loiter in the Central Business District the way many of our foreign labourers do on the streets of KL. So there's no need to get your knickers in a twist.

Foreign labour flocks to Singapore because Singaporeans leave Singapore. Highly-educated types will try and forge new lives in Australia, or in England. The grass is always greener on the other side, so away they go. Malaysians specifically fill the jobs that Singaporeans themselves aren't interested in. We can't talk about the large Filipino population in Singapore, as most of the time, the waitstaff I meet along Orchard Road are Filipino. Can't really live without them, the same way we can't say anything about our foreigners. But the highly-educated types... go easy on them la.

The situation is more complex there. Not so much so here. So don't compare Malaysia's situation with that in Singapore, or vice versa. It'd be awfully bumptious of you to do so. And you wouldn't want to do that, now do you?

Friday, 4 September 2015

Mana Merdekanya?

When I was in school, August was always a month we'd look forward to. Our independence day was a day of national pride, and eager students like myself would happily sacrifice time in the classroom to participate in patriotic activities and celebrations. Yes, really.

But that was a decade ago. It's 2015, and things have changed. I failed to see flags scattered liberally around the city centre; My street was equally devoid of the Jalur Gemilang. I didn't see creatively decorated taxicabs, or cars festooned with flags in every shape and size. Somehow, Malaysians weren't in a celebratory mood.

I wonder what caused it. Our slumping economy, perhaps. Though many will try to blame it on the devaluation of the Chinese yuan, and then follow up by saying that the whole region has been affected, the continued descent of the Malaysian Ringgit has nothing to do with China, and everything to do with Seri Perdana. You know how national economies slump a bit whenever there's an election, to account for the possibly drastic change in policies following the (possible) introduction of a new administration? Yeah. Think about that for a second, and then wonder why the Ringgit continues to plummet. Kalau AG pun boleh dibuang kerja dengan sekelip mata... 

Maybe it was the denunciation of the BERSIH rallies. They called the demonstrators 'unpatriotic' and 'troublemakers.' Though I admit, a handful got a tad rowdy and crossed some lines (sorry la, it's never okay to step on someone's face, even if you have 2.6 billion reasons to do so), BERSIH4 was the most peaceful rally organised by the Malaysians in Yellow there has ever been. I personally commend the Malaysian police force and other emergency services for ensuring the safety and wellbeing of BERSIH participants throughout the 36hr demonstration. Many of my friends slept on the streets of KL that Saturday night, and never once did they feel vulnerable or at risk. That's a big thing, especially in that part of town.

Or possibly, it's the brazen idiocy of our ministers. Some will tell you that it isn't a big deal, while others share recipes for 'tax-free rice.' There are always a few that are a sandwich short of a full picnic, but never have I seen a cabinet filled with empty bowls. Yes, bowls. Sebab depa semua mangkuk. In the meantime, the handful of good eggs scattered here and there are getting pummeled and squashed by the majority who insist on 'towing the party line' like the good brown-nosers that they are. Maybe if they all pulled their heads out of the one massive ass, they'd realise how full of shit they seem (and for good reason).

I don't know. Maybe I'm wrong. Maybe Malaysia was feeling incredibly patriotic. Maybe it was the love of the country that made 200,000 people take to the streets of KL, from every corner of the country, to fight for a freer, cleaner, more transparent Negara.

Or maybe I'm really stupid, and only 25,000 turned up. Who knows, really?

"I'll be pro-government once you give me a cabinet that's pro at governing."

Saturday, 28 March 2015

The Elephant in the Room. (+VAT)

It's the end of March, and a households' two breadwinners are budgeting for the month ahead. Let's call them Rosham and Sara. They're figuring out their finances, putting money aside from their meager salaries to cover things like car installments, utility bills, groceries, and rent for the home they share with their children. Everything seems normal, until they tally the amounts. They've noticed an increase, and a sharp one at that. And so they begin to deliberate on which luxuries to axe, and they raid the savings they've put aside for that family holiday they wanted to take in December, just to make it through the next couple of months comfortably. How will they tell the children...

This is undoubtedly the situation faced by hundreds of thousands of households in the country. GST is upon us, and its effects are widespread, as per expected of such a unilateral move.

Some of us knew it was an inevitability. Most Asian countries have brought about VAT already. And with our Government spending as much as it is, we knew that our VAT, christened 'GST' for reasons unknown, would come sooner rather than later. We've turned into a nanny-state, giving handouts to the majority, who actually survived pretty okay without it in the past, to ensure the security of another term in power.

I yawn at the short-sightedness of it all.

GST is the perfect example of the fundamental problem with our Government. They, like the majority of our nation, are reactionists. We only know how to flinch when burned, not how to prevent ourselves from getting burned in the first place.

Our economy is in deep trouble. 1MDB exacerbates the situation. Falling oil prices and dwindling treasury reserves have caused the Ringgit to weaken steadily.

The Malaysian economy could've weathered this. We could've remained steady as the global economy shivered slightly. We could've made our treasury fat while still handing out money to the general public, without it having such a detrimental effect on our balance sheet. "How?" you ask.

The answer is all to familiar. Gee Ess Tee.
... but 20 years ago.

The Malaysian economy was once a thing of beauty. People marveled at our drive and our resolve, with then Dato' Sri Dr. Mahathir Mohammed at the helm. This "arrogant little nation," as he once put it, placed itself firmly on the map, and made no intention (then, at least) of vacating. Malaysia was happy, Malaysians were happy, and our accountants were pleased.

The benefits reaped by countries who implement and enforce VAT cannot be denied. England has one of the most comprehensive care systems for its citizens. The Singapore Dollar is one of the most stable currencies in the region. And Thailand has so much lying around that its Prime Ministers help themselves to billions at a time. Cough.

But GST, now, will only pour salt into the wounds of the average Malaysians like you and I, who slog and slave every day to make ends meet, what with the insane costs of living and the equally dizzy income tax rates. Had GST been implemented during our economic prime (and at 3%, half the impending rate), I doubt Malaysians would've felt the pinch. And they most certainly wouldn't be feeling it now.

Not too far away from Rosham and Sara, a woman looks at herself in the mirror. Pleased with what she sees, she hands over a large sum of money to her hairstylist, who says her thanks and goes away...

Friday, 20 March 2015

A Minority Within the Majority: Liberalist Malay coming through...

Anyone who knows me will tell you that I have one hell of a temper. Really, I do. Even the most minor of triggers can set me huffing and puffing enough to bring down everything but my blood pressure. Just the other day I lost my temper at a woman who misused an OKU parking bay at the local Tesco's. I got so mad I felt faint. I am as much a victim of my hot-headed nature as the morons that trigger it.

In my line of work, I am forced to deal with differing opinions every day. Some from clients, most from the audience they target. This infuriates me too, and it has taken a toll on my health. A month away from 20 years old, I have been diagnosed with high blood pressure. No joke.

But no matter how cross I have been in the past at anyone over anything, including greedy business partners and cheating ex-girlfriends, I have never once dreamt of resorting to violence to appease my anger.

Might it have something to do with my upbringing? Maybe. Might it be due to my attitude toward the Malaysian political scene in general? Maybe. But the fact of the matter is that I, a Malay-Muslim youth, a public-school alumnus, represent a majority of my fellow Malaysians. And yet, it seems, I am a minority within the majority, because I don't immediately resort to violence.

Having had a front-seat view of the Aisyah Tajuddin fracas as it exploded, I am as entitled to an opinion on the matter as anyone else, if not more so. And I will publicly state here and now, that I wholly-agree with the opinion and point-of-view expressed by Ms. Aisyah on her BFMKupas program, as well as those expressed by media stalwart Jahabar Sadiq in an article titled 'In PAS, a Study of Arrogance and Ignorance' (which you can read here).

You don't question divine law. You simply don't. The Quraan is literary perfection, and its teachings are beyond the reproach of mortals. However, it isn't the divine law that I, like so many Malaysians, am questioning. It's the lacklustre 'politicians' in their white robes and turbans that are tasked with implementing said divine law that raises doubts. It's the self-righteous fogeys whose priorities have been blown about by their own arrogance, that I question.

And the reproach for even coming close to mentioning such a thing? Threats of rape, of violence, of being set ablaze and shot in the head. My, how we've come to forget that our political representatives are nothing more than people themselves, just like you or I. They are not beyond question, beyond reproach, or indeed beyond consequence. How dare you place them higher than you place yourself. And how dare you act this way, targeting a helpless young woman and her equally helpless family, if you believe yourselves to be proponents of a religion that preaches harmony, unity, and peace. You should be ashamed of yourselves.

Such is the state of our youth that they respond with violence and intimidation, rather than understanding and reason. The compassion has gone from our society, and that makes me very sad.

Hudud is the collective feather in the PAS cap that they've been working on since, seemingly, the rebirth of Christ. And the reason behind this? So they don't look like the mere Coalition-placeholders that  they are.