“Malaysians Face Rising Costs of Living, says economists”
Our recent public forum on the subject of ‘GST & PERIUK NASI KITAK’ ( GST & Your Rice Bowl) held in Kuching received an encouraging response from the student community, members of the public and friends from NGO circles. About 80 persons turned up last Saturday night at a local hotel to listen to the two(2) invited panelists Dr Muhammed Abdul Khalid and Encik Azrul Azwar Ahmad Tajuddin who are both economists by training.
The forum was organised by Rise of Sarawak Efforts (R.O.S.E) in partnership with another NGO known as Lawyer Kamek For Change and has the support of other local NGOs. It’s aim was to raise awareness on the subject of GST and rising costs of living and other issues affecting young people.
The audience listened attentively to the members of the panel as they answered and discussed on a series of questions put to them by the Moderator for the forum, Geoffrey Tang , a member of ROSE.
On the question of GST and whether Malaysia was prepared for the implementation of this consumption tax and whether GST is the cause of the increase in prices of goods and services, both panelists agreed that it was indeed a major contributor to rising prices. The fall in the value of the ringgit as well as the withdrawal of government subsidies which happened at around the same time further contributed to the burden of rising prices. There is no chance for the people to make adjustments for this. Dr Muhammed also took the audience through the history of GST before implementation and is of the view that GST contributes to the regressive tax system in Malaysia. It is the poor who gets taxed the most and not the rich. This was because the poor spends a much greater percentage of their pay or income on goods and services, than the rich. Both panelists surmised that Malaysia needs a more progressive tax system.
On the disconnect between what the people experience on the ground ie. Rising prices of food, housing and transport and what is proclaimed by government that our country’s GDP is doing very well (5.9% for Q4 of 2017) and that our economy is doing very well the panelists unpacked this by delving into what GDP means. It is not reflective of the wealth and quality of life/quality of jobs that the people have nor the sustainability of the economy. A very simple proof is this; even though GDP of Sarawak is the same as that of Selangor’s the average household income of Sarawakians is half that of Selangorians. “Don’t be obsessed with GDP figures” advised Dr Muhammed. “Instead we should ask these questions and find solutions to them, ‘Why is 1 in 4 of Sarawakian children stunted? Why are many of our youths and young graduates unemployed with unemployment rates as high as 10.5%? Half of our graduates earn less than RM2000 per month and this has been so for the last 10 years”.
“Of what use is high GDP or a booming economy if it does not benefit the ‘rakyat’?” asked Azrul Azwar. Currently, we are experiencing stagnant wages; increase in wages cannot catch up with rising costs of living and inflation. Not enough high-income jobs are being created for our graduates and there is even a drop in the number of available jobs. Annually, 60,000-80,000 new graduates cannot get jobs.
“To solve any problem we first need to acknowlege the problem. And if those in charge or policy-makers refuse to do so you have a problem. “ referring to the words of a minister who said that those graduates who had to sell nasi lemak or become Grab or Uber drivers to earn a living as noble. The rakyat needs to demand that our leaders are people who have the expertise and who have good values and attitudes and who care.’
Encik Azwar urged and called on the audience especially the young to :
- lead and participate in volunteerism at the local level to provide community services, lead and participate in informal and formal social movements at the local and national level to carry out, resist or undo social , economic, cultural or political changes; in other words we should champion issues that are close to our hearts and put pressures on elected representatives and public office holders;
- Join and be active members of political parties that reflect and represent our ideologies and world views, from where we could propose programs and policies in line with progress.
Amongst what government should do, Encik Azrul recommends public ownership of selected sectors such as the provision of social services like healthcare, education and public transportation.
The audience participated in the Q&A section and many good questions were put to the panel to answer.
We hope that the forum has succeeded in showing that issues affecting our everyday lives are very much connected with policies set forth by government who is in turn made up of people whom the voters choose.
Ms Ann Teo of ROSE echoed the suggestion of one of the panelist Azrul to participate in civil society and said “Come and volunteer and participate in our core activities centred around voter empowerment and increasing democratic spaces through citizens participation.” She also made the call for all, in particular the young adults to register as voters and to go out to vote when GE14 comes describing it as the minimal thing that every citizen has to do; exercise their right to vote and elect the representative of their choice.
Dated 6th March 2018
Media contact person for ROSE - Ann Teo 016-8604998