DEC 27 — Malaysians are waiting with bated breath, bracing ourselves for the sweeping price hikes that are set to uncomfortably wedge itself among us next year. This festive season isn’t one that is to be celebrated with merriment, as purse strings will be jealously guarded and additional holes punctured on the belt to accommodate a receding budget.

The Barisan Nasional government has, in a phlegmatic manner, announced that the price of electricity, assessment rates (in KL) and toll will increase. This is in conjunction with the implementation of the GST (which will be in 2015) which is anticipated to lead to a drastic escalation in the prices of goods and services. Oil and sugar are the initial casualties with subsidies for these two being reduced.

The most insidious aspect with regard the slew of price increases is not so much what is announced, but what isn’t. The increase in the price of utilities and energy will lead to a cost-push inflation whereby the price of goods that are dependent on them will also increase.

Already, public transportation companies that use electricity are mulling a fare review. These pernicious “hidden costs” will lead to the further misery of us all.

A ton of bricks are tipped on top of our heads. We are not only under the reign of an authoritarian government, whom without a sense of compunction disregards individual liberty, but which also has no qualms about squeezing us into economic asphyxiation.

The imaginative Bahasa Malaysia proverb, “bagai jatuh ditimpa tangga” succinctly describes our predicament.

It’s the economy, stupid!

In a pathetic effort to divert the attention from the economic calamity that threatens to engulf us, the powers that be have mobilised action against a supposedly existential spiritual threat. The Shiah issue which primarily ensnares Mat Sabu is a red herring; one that is covered with a thick curry sauce of sanctimonious piety, but a red herring nonetheless.

We must continue to uphold religious freedom as enshrined under Article 11 of the Federal Constitution. Yet, our eyes must never stray away from the issue of livelihood, which will indiscriminately impact everyone irrespective of religion or race.

In the 13th General Election, the people appeared to have sagaciously favoured prioritising bread and butter issues over those in the next world. Kedah went to BN because of PAS’s administrative ineptitude. The PR coalition was rewarded with increased majorities in Selangor and Penang due to the prudent management by the respective governments. PAS’s control in Kelantan was shaken as the people start to realise that the road to heaven is one which has little harm when paved with some worldly luxuries.

Ditelan mati mak, diluah mati bapa. Tapi BN masih hidup

The more rational parts of the BN government have presented Malaysians with a Catch-22 situation. If we accept the price hikes, our savings will be incinerated. If we reject the price hikes the government would be fiscally bankrupt (notwithstanding that it is already morally bankrupt, mind you).

No discussions are made on cost control. These price hikes seem to be a fait accompli, whereby the BN party was cognisant of the need to raise prices even before the general election yet consciously failed to inform us of it in their manifesto.

“Necessity” has been the flimsy defence of the BN administration in pushing the cost of living. They claim that these hikes are long overdue and were supposed to be implemented three years ago. Yet in the same breath, saccharine-filled promises during the elections were made that prices of essential goods and services won’t go up. Hardly any discussions were raised during the run up to the election on the GST.

Why were these hikes delayed then? Because it was too near the election and BN couldn’t drop a few points to be behind PR? If the hikes were done on schedule, I very well think it won’t come simultaneously, all at once!

To think about it, considering that it is BN that has led us to this cesspool, why are we entrusting them with the GST and price hikes? Unless structural reforms occur to plug wastage, wouldn’t all this happen all over again after the next general election?

Victims

All of us, except for the elite and BN acolytes would be sorely affected by these price hikes. The cost of living would be unbearable.

The average worker who undertook long-term financial commitments (by buying a house or a car) based on the pre-election cost of living with the expectation that prices would not escalate as rapidly as what is happening now would be hit hardest.

Those who are lulled by the meretricious stability conjured by BN before the elections are the ones that are betrayed.

The need to demand for accountability

Now is the time to intensify the pressure to demand badly-needed reforms. Price hikes and the GST must not be unconditional and can only be implemented after a few core requirements are fulfilled. Only after structural reforms are done should BN be allowed to tighten the noose on our necks.

Corruption has to be reduced to an acceptable level. Public transport must be efficient like in any First World nation (we can start by making buses arrive on time). The over saturated civil service must be reduced (or they can at least be made to be polite and to pick up the phone before five rings). MPs and ministers must declare all of their assets etc.

The GTP and ETP should bear more results than just being smokescreens to show us that the government is doing something. Why then is more attention heaped on the rising cost of living than the transformation it supposedly conducts? And don’t you dare say it is because of perception!

The price hikes is a litmus test of BN’s sincerity in conducting reforms. If hikes are done without significant changes, BN would have lost any shred of moral legitimacy that it has (if any).

* This is the personal opinion of the columnist.