Thursday, June 5, 2008

Feeling the pinch...when inflation strikes

Today our country faces the biggest price hike in petrol ever and sooner or later, the price of every goods and services will rise in tandem. Common citizens like you and I feel the hurt even more as we all know that our salary couldn't and wouldn't rise to compensate for the increased cost of living.

I am not sure what will be the extent of public response but judging from the online backlash, the repercussions of this unpopular move will resonate for the next few weeks and shake the foundations of this nation to its core.

Street demonstrations, protests from various NGOs and groups, boycotts, crimes and so on might occur but a thinking person would probably demand more. The question is that for all the money that we might save from fuel subsidy, where is our government channeling all those funds to? Moreover, as an oil-producing country, why do we pay more than any other oil-producing countries for our oil? Furthermore, how are we going to control the sky-rocketing inflation that will sweep across all economical sectors?

I have never studied economics but everyone know that it in a free market, there must be a buyer and seller. Subsidies from our government will end one day. Hitherto, the current scenario. Yet, who is benefiting from the petroleum and gas that we sell? Is there a reason why our toll prices are one of the highest in this region? Can we ensure that the price of public transportation and the fate of the under-privileged are safeguarded? I shudder to think that one day, our country might crumble under inflationary pressures and the middle class will collapse, causing us to have the rich getting richer and the poor getting poorer.

For years, Malaysians have been driving their own cars or motorcycles as a mode of transportation due to the dismal public service. In a middle-class family of 5 people, there might be up to 3-4 cars per working adult. This is not environmental-friendly or the ‘green’ way but the matter of fact is that survival of the fittest matters most and if we don’t drive to work, we might never reach our work-places and schools. However, as much as we try, our little Myvi and Kancils and Saga could never consume as much fuel as the grander, bigger cars if we travel the same distances. I wonder if the owners of those Lamborghinis, Lotuses, Porsches, etc feel the impact as much as we normal citizens do?

Hence, the argument for better public transportation holds valid grounds. The heavy vehicles using diesel should be protected from this massive price hikes as buses carry more people, lorry carry goods, tankers carry crude oil and so on. The moment price hikes affects these crucial modes of transportations, all hell breaks loose on the prices of consumer goods. The petrol and diesel price hike should occur after careful thoughts and planning on a safety-net for the citizens to use alternative modes of transport, not after 4 short hours of ‘intense’ discussion from the Cabinet ministers. Members of the public and stakeholders in the transportation industry should be engaged on constructive discussions before this monumental decision is announced.

As I gazed at the long line of people waiting outside the petrol station to pump in more petrol at the lower price, I sighed inwardly as I survey my own prospects of a social life in the next few months. Although I don’t drive to work as I walk daily, I need to go home to KL to see my parents, loved ones, friends and church purposes on weekends. I wonder how much more I have to pay in order to go home from my work-place, in a place whereby I have no family members to a place where my family and home is. I shudder to think how disconnected I and so many young people will feel as we severely limit our essential traveling. On the other hand, if we take long-distance bus, is our safety guaranteed looking at the accident rates nowadays?

This deeply unpopular move will affect all strata of the society and although there is a rebate given to most car owners, this ‘silent’ gift will not have the same impact as the price hike as we brace ourselves for the upcoming inflationary processes in all other industry. My heart goes to parents and people with family as they need to have bigger cars and to make more trips to bring their children around. May we all find a way to cope with this economical blow.

This picture shows Matthew Declan and Mark Damien, Melanie's two cute little boys, whom I met on one of my trips back home. Will I be able to go home as frequently as before? Only time will tell...

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