It’s that time of the year again.
Wherever you are in the world, you probably headed out for a few drinks with friends or family, then tried to catch fireworks (and hopefully a kiss at midnight if you’re lucky) before telling yourself that because it’s a new year, things will start looking up.
If you’ve actually managed to tick off, at least, half of your resolutions for this past year, send me a tweet and I’ll think about buying you a cup of overpriced coffee at one of ‘em new-fangled hipster coffee joints down at TTDI or Bangsar.
You’re going to need it.
Because it’s beginning to look like 2016 will be a long-fucking-year for us Malaysians.
Let’s take a lengthy, ranty look at what happened in 2015, and I’ll explain why it’s only going to get worse.
- Our slipping, sliding economy.
The ringgit slumped to a 17-year low versus the US dollar towards the later half of this year due to international concerns about the 1MDB issue. From peaking at just under 3 to 1 in early ’13, we’ve certainly come a long way – whether it’s designer goods or gaming apparatus you’re into, there’s been a sharp increase in cost over the past couple of years.
While you’re still probably going to be going to that aforementioned new-fangled hipster coffee joint on a regular, the reality is that most Malaysians are going to cut back on spending due to the volatile nature of the market – coping with just the bare necessities as much as possible until consumer belief is restored.
That lack of spending is going to cause the economy to stagnate, simply because less money is going around.
Imagine it this way.
You have a ringgit. You use that ringgit to buy a Marlboro batang from Muthu. Your dear friend then goes on to purchase a roti kosong from the mamak with that one ringgit. Mr. Ali, who owns the mamak, then uses that cash to buy his supplies for the next day, effectively making your RM1 worth RM3 in the grand scale of things.
But if you had to save that money, Muthu wouldn’t have been able to buy himself dinner that night, and Mr. Ali would have been one ringgit short of having enough kangkung for the next day, which potentially would have pissed off someone who came in for kangkung soup, making him Yelp a bad review about Mr. Ali’s mamak – which would lead to less people spending there… I digress. But anyway, it’s an endless loop. And less money spent.
2. What are increasing wages?
Over the past decade, through the multiple recessions, one thing has stayed constant – our wages. Logically, as a developing nation, workers are always in high demand – which should therefore drive pay higher.
But it just hasn’t been happening.
When you tie it to the points I’ve made earlier about the rising cost of living and the lack of purchasing power parity that our citizens have to face, it just paints a bleak future for the rest of us, and especially for the lower income brackets.
The majority of the country will be facing the sudden impact of changes which 2016’s National Budget will bring onto us – including power and fuel hikes, the increased cost of household necessities such as cooking oil (by a whopping 100%).
Sure, BR1M is increasing its aid from RM100 to RM200 per household next year for the bottom 40% – but how much of a difference is it going to realistically make with living costs rising at an unprecedented pace? Our politicians seem to be increasingly out of touch with the layman.
I’ve long been a proponent of the fact that in order for a government to truly solidify its grip on a country, they need to control the education system and mould it for their own overarching agenda. This is something that most ruling powers do, and I don’t fault them for it – but there is a certain line, and Malaysia’s powers-that-be have crossed it.
You’d naturally want your people to be smart enough to drive the country forward economically, while still playing to your beat of the drum – conversely, we’re just going to be dumb sheep not knowing what to do, which would thus propel this country towards even more infamy, and eventually, self-destruction (for lack of a less hyperbolic term).
I’m sure most of you have friends from college who were declined scholarships because of racial factors, or other shenanigans – but 2016’s Budget affects the majority of the student base in Malaysia, and not just for tertiary education.
The budget for education is at the lowest it’s ever been since Najib took over, down from an estimated 35% of annual spending to a measly 12%. What does this entail?
Public universities have had their funds cut by almost 25% across the board, international scholarships have become a luxury (Mara and JPA scholarships are being altered mid-stream) with students already studying overseas being forced to return, and PTPTN loans have also been reduced by 15-25% for students who didn’t make the cut for public universities. The worst one yet is, of course, the fact that funding for underprivileged kids has been cut by 95% – bringing the budget for children living in poverty from RM200m to just RM10m.
And all this is going on while the Prime Minister’s Office has simply increased its budget by RM1.1 BILLION. To do what exactly? Campaign for more donations from wealthy overseas benefactors?
Our transportation system has always been in the doldrums, something that never fails to irk me whenever I go south of the border to Singapore.
But is our government even doing anything about it? Shittier public transport means less productivity – people waste more time trying to get from point A to point B, instead of working on something useful.
Sure, the new MRT line is being built, and we’ll see a more interconnected Klang Valley by 2018. But in the meantime, was it really necessary to hike up bus and train fares by almost double to burden the masses?
It’s not like driving is a choice either, with car prices going up (I still have no idea till today why Proton cars are in the same bracket as the lower-mid tier Toyotas and Hondas despite not being taxed), fuel increases, and bloody unreasonable toll charges.
And just to rub it in further, cabs are essentially running around at midnight rates 24/7 now with the 40-60% increase in fares. I understand that yes, cabbies need the cash too – and I don’t fault them for it (see point 2), but there simply isn’t an affordable, convenient way for anyone to get around town anymore.
I’m just praying our Government doesn’t pull an Indonesia by banning Uber and Grabcar once and for all.
Pakatan Rakyat disbanding and having no strong opposition coalition to face up against Barisan Nasional remains perplexing, to say the least.
6. Becoming a nanny state.
Okay, maybe not just a nanny state, but rather, a dictatorship.
I’m pretty sure most of you would have heard of the NSC bill, pushed through insanely quickly earlier this month. But its implications are far worse than what’s seemingly on the surface.
Sure, it’s supposed to be for our safety, what with all the terrorism around the world. But ‘anything that threatens national security’ is very loosely defined. The NSC can declare a state of emergency indefinitely for a bombing in the heart of KL, just as they can shut down your favourite mamak for a couple nights because one of your friends decided to say ‘fuck the government.’ And if there are any casualties during a ‘state of emergency’, there doesn’t need to be an investigation into any supposed deaths. You can only imagine the chaos that would happen if the bill was activated to include the whole of Malaysia,
They can do this with no check-and-balance. Whatever the Council says, is law. This completely overrides the idea of the separation of powers (if any of it is left anyway). I urge you to read this article to completely understand the implications of this bill.
There’s so much more for me to go on, but it might be just a little bit too much to handle at one go (for me, as well). I’m not going to touch on the racial side of things with this piece, despite it being a massive part of what make Malaysia what it is, simply because I feel (as with politics) the facts are out there for you to make sense of.
We’ll always have stupid headlines (like the uproar over B1A4 hugging three tudung covered fans, as well as how a woman smiling is apparently a sign for a man to follow her) as well as other things like Jackie Chan becoming a Datuk to distract us from the foreboding issues this country is facing.
But I feel that 2016, more than ever is the year where we’ve all got to start paying closer attention to current events – from all angles, to try and understand what’s going on in this hectic, chaotic newscape. Sure, pages like the Sarawak Report and Malaysian Chronicle are blocked by our government for being way left-field – but if you can use a VPN to watch porn, I’m pretty sure that you can’t use it as an excuse to not keep up with the news.
Just, don’t believe everything on the internet.
And have a great year.
Isaac Miranda is a creative strategist and serial phone destroyer based in South East Asia. Hit him up at @theisaacmiranda on Twitter for more bad vibes.