Here In My Home - Malaysian Artistes For Unity

Saturday, 28 June 2008

Come On Everybody! Get The Big Picturelah!

Continuing the series of articles that I feel would be interesting to post here.

Sunday June 22, 2008

Get the big picture?



We’re all thinking, ‘Oh woe is me, my life is harder because the price of petrol has gone up’. But what about the country’s well being as a whole?

A STRANGE thing happened in Kapar, Selangor, this week. While the rest of the country was worrying about the rising price of oil, motorists in this sleepy town were lining up to get free petrol. In the end, it was revealed that the petrol station’s owner had unknowingly left somebody who is mentally unstable in charge during his lunch break.

The hike in the price of oil may not be the looming, dire threat it seems at first. – File photo .

No way these otherwise law-abiding, tax-paying citizens genuinely thought they were getting something for nothing. They were just succumbing to their base human nature – see, want, take. It worked when you were in kindergarten, it’s obviously still whirring away in your amygdala when somebody offers you free petrol. We are inherently selfish, and that goes a long way in explaining why the media has devoted so much space to this issue.
(Why am I taking up space? Well, I had not planned to, but some things I’ve heard people say over the past few weeks has me riled up enough to address this issue – again.)

This recent surge in noise has made me think: who is really complaining about the current increase? Is it the rakyat who don’t have a car or a motorcycle? Well, they haven’t been hit directly by the hike, and they wouldn’t really be so vehement about knock-on inflation because it hasn’t really happened yet. Is it the members of the public who drive cars less than 2,000cc? I’m not sure how much they are complaining after getting their RM625 rebate. Incidentally, these people are better off than if the Government had just raised the price of petrol by 30 sen with no rebates. However, I agree that all you luxury car and SUV drivers out there, on the other hand, have been told to just cope with life as it is now. Here’s a tip for you guys: tell the driver in front to switch off the air-conditioner if you want to save on petrol.

But still the rakyat are suffering, the cry continues: road tax is expensive. But, hang on. If you’re driving a car less than 1,600cc, you pay less than RM100 for road tax. That’s less than a tank full of petrol. If it’s a 2,000cc car, your road tax would be RM380, which is three tanks full of petrol. The real pain only starts for those who own cars 3,000cc or more. Yes, more than RM2,000 is a lot to pay just for the privilege of driving on the road. But, my, that’s a nice shiny, petrol-guzzling behemoth of a ride you have....

Cut income tax is the next suggestion. But – and you know what I’m going to say here already, don’t you? – if you earn less than RM1,500 a month, you don’t pay any tax. If you’re lucky enough to have found the love of your life and married her legally, you can earn up to RM2,500 and still not have to pay any tax. In fact, only 10% percent of 10 million eligible Malaysians file a tax return. Just imagine what the Inland Revenue Board offices would be like every April if everyone suddenly decided to be a responsible citizen.

In fact, a lot of the complaints and suggestions out there are not ones that affect the hard-core poor – who don’t really have that loud a voice anyway. It seems we only complain about things when the pain directly affects us, and the solutions we propose usually directly benefit us first. But then, as I’ve pointed out, we are a selfish species. As a friend of mine pointed out, the people making the loudest noise are those in the middle-income bracket who have suddenly seen their disposable income of RM300-RM500 a month suddenly cut by half. We can’t buy that plasma TV so easily, or eat out so often. Saving up for our child’s university years is going to be a lot harder. But the way this has been played out in the media makes it sound like people are starving as a direct result of the price increase. This is not true; the poor have always been poor, they’ve always been struggling. Nobody is falling into poverty because the price of petrol is now closer to its true price than before.

The one thing that affects all is inflation. About 100,000 fleet cardholders in the country still buying diesel at the pre-April subsidised price. So, the price of fuel going up cannot be a direct reason why buses are increasing their fees. Or why my Char Kuey Teow has gone up again in price.In fact, complaints about this whole petrol price raising exercise has been focused on how much harder my life is after the increase. But what about the country’s well being as a whole? I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again (I wish this newspaper would bump up the font size from its usual nine to 14 here so people will pay attention): We are running out of petrol. Malaysia will probably become a nett importer of petroleum goods within the next half decade. When we buy more of this stuff than we sell, the nation will find it impossible to pamper its citizens with subsidies.

This five-year estimate is largely dependant on how wisely we conserve fuel from now on. Subsidising petrol does not encourage people to be careful with it. It doesn’t encourage people to carpool, or to walk instead of drive, or to take public transportation (however abominable some may find it), or to buy a smaller, more fuel-economical car. We are happy when the Government absorbs our burden, even though we are wasting a God-given resource. But it’s not quite all gloom and doom. There is still a lot of natural gas in Malaysian oil wells, so that could be a fall back, but that will eventually run out too. We need to start investigating alternative sources of energy, and not just invest in solutions that remain dependent on fossil fuels (like improving public transport).

The truth is that we are selfish to the point of myopia about this. I’m sure some even think that since it’s still five years away, we should be hedonistically pumping away at the stations until that crunch day comes. But you also know, young grasshopper, that there will be a heavy hangover after that party.

Logic is the antithesis of emotion but mathematician-turned-scriptwriter Dzof Azmi’s theory is that people need both to make sense of life’s vagaries and contradictions.

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