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.