The obscene economic disparity between social classes and ethnic groups should make us wonder what really has happened since our leaders shouted, “Merdeka! Merdeka! Merdeka!” more than 50 years ago, writes Mustafa K Anuar.
Reading about Prime Minister Najib Razak’s talk-of-the-town RM79053 birthday bash and his daughter’s RM409767 engagement reminds me of a family friend, Kah Peng, whom I bump into from time to time.
Not that Kah Peng is the kind of person who sinks her teeth into lobster bisque and wagyu beef for her birthday bash; she’s lucky if she even has a cake to mark her birthday with. It’s just that this single mother always reminds me to tell our leaders in my writing about the hardship people like her have to go through.
This middle-aged woman, who brought up her three kids all by herself, does menial work for long hours in order to put food on the table. Which is why she often loudly complains in bazaar Malay to me: “Bilang tu orang: kita macam mau mampus pasal semua barang naik! Dia orang tak takut Tuhankah? (Tell those leaders that we can hardly keep our heads above water, what with the rising costs of living! Don’t they fear God?)”
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She also wonders why there isn’t an effective law that can protect the welfare of single mothers. Why, she asks helplessly, are runaway husbands not made accountable by the authorities for the “crime” they have committed against their unsuspecting wives who eventually have to fend for themselves and their children? At this juncture, I wasn’t sure whether I should tell her in all my earnestness that Shahrizat Jalil, the Women, Family and Community Development Minister, is too preoccupied with her husband’s cattle and condos.
Life is indeed tough for people like Kah Peng as the prices of essential goods have kept rising over the years. The lavish lifestyle of our political leaders certainly makes a vulgar contrast with that of the Kah Pengs of this wretched world. Obviously, Kah Peng, who reads her Chinese newspaper, isn’t amused when she learns of this jarring social contradiction.
If we look closely at our economic life, we would find that not only has the ringgit shrunk but we’ve been short-changed. Bread has also shrunk in size even though the price has been maintained. Look at how thin and small tissue paper, for example, has become. Examine the washing powder detergent in the plastic wrapper that has gone smaller and, the one in bottles, become diluted. In other words, the RM50 note that you take out of your wallet in the supermarket would not take you far at all.
When Kah Peng falls ill, she would dutifully stand in the long queue in the hope of catching the doctor in the government hospital as soon as possible. And this often means that she would be examined very much later in the day. At times she would go to the hospital very early in the morning so that the waiting duration would not eat into the time that’s meant for her daily work. Mind you, she’s not aware of the indecent haste of the government to introduce the controversial 1Care project.
Kah Peng does feel bitter about the hardship that she encounters in her life because she works very hard to earn a living and yet she feels so short-changed. She realises that the BR1M handouts don’t mean much in this inflationary period of our collective life, but she nonetheless would take the RM500 because “that’s really our (the people’s) money”. What the heck, she exclaims.
At any rate, she insists that she knows who to vote for when the general election comes around. She want to choose someone, irrespective of the colour of his skin, who can take good care of her and others like her, she adds.
And it doesn’t do any good either to people like Kah Peng to be told by the media that so-and-so has made it to the top 20 richest Malaysians club. So what’s the big deal, especially if the wealth has been accumulated off the sweat of poorly-paid workers? Besides, this millionaire/billionaire achievement only widens the yawning gap between the rich and the poor.
In fact, this obscene economic disparity between social classes and ethnic groups should make us wonder what really has happened ever since our leaders shouted, “Merdeka! Merdeka! Merdeka!” more than 50 years ago. Where have all the natural resources of our beloved country, and the money from them, gone? Whatever happened to the series of five-year economic plans that supposedly were aimed at elevating the socio-economic status of the ordinary rakyat?
It leaves a bad taste in the mouth when we remember what Najib once advised fellow Malaysians to tighten their belts in the face of rising inflation. And the taste gets even bitterer when questions are now raised as to who really footed the bills of the premier’s bountiful parties: the taxpayers or the prime minister himself?
It is important for us ordinary rakyat to know who actually paid the bills. If it is true that taxpayers’ money has been spent on private functions, there’s every reason for us to be riled up. For this is the kind of money that can go a long way to help finance, for instance, the construction of more hospitals, schools, training institutes and toll-free roads run by the public, not private, sector so that they are accessible to the ordinary rakyat, especially the poor and the marginalised.
In the meantime, Kah Peng soldiers on to put food on the table while many politicians continue to put their foot in their mouths.