MARCH 29 — Many years ago, a friend of mine died of pancreatic cancer. All her nearly 50 years alive, she lived a very simple life.

She worked as a junior lecturer in a private college, took almost no holidays, stayed in a small flat and owned nothing expensive. Not even a car.

However, a few weeks after she died, we were informed that her insurance claims came up to hundreds of thousands of ringgit. 

The joke among us was that she herself would have probably voiced the first thing which popped into our heads when we saw the amount i.e. that we are worth more dead than alive.


But that was an insurance claim vs an essentially humble lifestyle. 

Still, it makes us wonder about how much it takes for one to live at all?

A customer counts change after buying some groceries at a wet market in Kuala Lumpur. — Picture by Saw Siow Feng
A customer counts change after buying some groceries at a wet market in Kuala Lumpur. — Picture by Saw Siow Feng

So many workers in the country struggle every day to feed themselves. A minimum wage of RM1,500 for the father of a family of even one, living in Kuala Lumpur, is as close to the poverty line as one can get. 


This kind of amount would only be "comfortable" (barely) for a single guy staying in factory-provided accommodation, usually involving 20-plus workers crammed together in a small space. 

In all likelihood, the folks paid such wages work for organisations whose top directors own multiple Beemers and can afford to vacay in London a few times a year if they wish. 

As if the discrepancy wasn’t bad enough, when it comes to minimum wages there are the usual pushbacks and half-heartedness. For example, the Malaysian Employers Federation (MEF) complained that higher minimum wages only benefit foreign workers and will result in more funds leaving the country. 

Then the Malaysian Security Industry Association (PIKM) claims the sector can’t afford to pay those levels of wages for security guards.

How did we come to this? Why the foot-dragging to make life slightly better for thousands of people when a small number of folks live like kings every day?

Even in the case of my late friend, surely the hundreds of thousands accrued to her family after she died would have been so much more helpful and appreciated when she was still alive! 

Is capitalism some strange deferred-gratification-until-death programme for the masses? How come the system has trouble sustaining itself if, say, 10,000 workers are given less than a third of the amount paid to a handful of CEOs?

Why, in essence, are most of us worth more buried six feet under the ground than we are above it?

*This is the personal opinion of the columnist.