Published: Thursday October 31, 2013 MYT 12:00:00 AM
Updated: Thursday October 31, 2013 MYT 4:29:52 PM
BY STEPHEN THEN
I HAD a most interesting conversation recently with a church friend.
She is the mother of a student from a Miri school who is now studying overseas.
Her son called her from his university not so long ago, telling her that a top government leader had visited the university and had a gathering with Malaysian students there as well as representatives from the Malaysian business communities.
This minister took to the stage and spoke on a host of issues happening back home.
He took a jab at Malaysians back home, saying that he could not understand why they were complaining and criticising the Government.
He gave the recent move by the Federal Cabinet to reduce the subsidy of RON95 petrol and diesel by 20 sen as an example of what he described as “the very negative attitude” of Malaysians nowadays, especially those living in urban constituencies.
“It is only 20 sen. Why are Malaysians complaining so much about that even until today?”
It is a sad thing indeed to find that this minister is so out of touch with what is happening on the ground.
The complaint from the rakyat concerning the fuel hike is not just about having to pay 20 sen more for every litre. It is about how far the impact from the hike is burdening the rakyat. The hike had caused multiplier effects in terms of the rise in cost of living.
Let me give just one example.
In the interior of Sarawak, folk have to use private four-wheel drives to travel to cities and towns to buy essential goods or to conduct important activities such as health checks, medical treatments or to bring their agricultural produce for sale.
There is no bus service and each trip can cost a hefty amount.
For example, from Lio Mato to Miri city, each passenger has to pay RM170 per way, meaning that a return trip costs RM340. For them, that is a lot of money.
Now, the one-way trip charge from Lio Mato to Miri has increased from RM170 to RM200! That means a passenger now has to fork out RM400.
RM400 for city folk is already a big sum, what more to say for rural people, the majority of whom are still living in poverty and struggling to survive day to day.
So, do we laugh off the 20 sen fuel hike?
The minister I am referring to does not seem to be aware of this harsh reality on the ground.
It is the same with the recent move to abolish sugar subsidy.
We hear of government leaders and ministers telling people that the move is not only to shore up income, but also to reduce cases of diabetes.
The Government is concerned for the health of the rakyat and the 34 sen subsidy abolishment is a small thing, they said. Again, they are missing the point.
There are already shops and eateries that have hiked the prices of their items to dizzying heights.
A coffee shop I often patronise in Kuala Baram district used to charge RM6 per plate of food. On Sunday, I went to the same shop and ordered the same food and the towkay charged me RM7, and when I asked why, he said sugar subsidy had been abolished and he had no choice but to charge more.
When I asked him why the hike of up to RM1, he said many other coffee shops in Miri were also raising their prices.
I also found out that some pharmacies had already hiked up the prices of vitamins and health supplements.
The pharmacy I visit once a month used to charge RM16 for a small bottle of 60 capsules of Vitamin C. On Monday, I went to the same pharmacy and bought the same item and the cost had shot up to RM22!
The Domestic Trade, Cooperatives and Consumerism Ministry said it could not do anything because these were not controlled items.
What’s even more frustrating is that the Government has not implemented any measures to cushion the rakyat from such form of victimisation.
You complain to the ministry and it tells you it cannot take any action.
Complain to the wakil rakyat and they give a general verbal advice that traders must not increase the prices of goods unreasonably. Beyond that, they too cannot do anything.
It is the norm for politicians to fly into rural constituencies once in a blue moon, especially during elections, to visit the people. They come in their helicopters, stay for one or two hours, and then fly off. The next time they come will be the next election.
So how can they feel the pulse of the rakyat and understand the people’s woes if they spend so little time with the ordinary folk?
The latest concern from the people is over the move to introduce the Goods and Services Tax (GST).
During a dinner here on Saturday, I had a conversation with a politician and he said the Government’s move to introduce the GST would in fact benefit the rakyat as the prices of goods and services would be cheaper.
When have the prices of goods and services in Miri city ever become cheaper?
Are we made to believe that when the GST is enforced, the prices of goods and services will drop. Even now many things have become more expensive!
The likelihood is that prices of goods and services will shoot up by unreasonable levels, such as the cost of servicing cars and motorcycles, the cost of vitamins and health food, cost of housing construction and house repairs and prices of food and drinks in eateries.
So many of our wakil rakyat are so sadly out of touch with their people it is little wonder that the rakyat feel alienated.
I think it is very important for our leaders and politicians to spend more time with the rakyat by living closer to them, not just visiting them once in a few years.
The reason why some politicians lost during the last general and state elections was because they were so out of touch with the voters and they did not truly comprehend the problems faced by the people — people who hold the votes that make the difference.