Our writer laments the passing of the good old days and wonders whether the quality of governance is to blame.For some time now, economists have become comfortable with catchwords that we once associated with the speech of psychologists. Even as they speak about money, profits and balance sheets, they no longer blush when they mention such things as emotional well-being, self-esteem and spiritual vitality.
And Malaysian politicians and technocrats have caught up fast in using these jargons. They are no longer talking about “standards of living” or “costs of living”, but rather the “quality of life”, as if it means anything to the poor Malaysian wage earner struggling to provide his family with three square meals.
Malaysia’s good old days are really not that old. Middle-aged Malaysians can still remember when you could have coffee with a friend for 20 cents. (We used dollars and cents then.) And if you had an extra 50 cents in your pocket, you could each have a roti canai or a bowl of mee or kuay teow. Your bus fare probably cost you 5 or 10 cents, and you could talk forever on the phone for 10 cents if it was a local call. If you earned around $500 a month, you could own a car.
In short, life used to be good. There was quality in it.
Today, an urban family earning a household income of RM3,000 a month would be lucky to survive the costs of food, utilities and transport. Try shopping with RM50 and see what you can take home to your family.
And now rumours are bouncing around that another round of price increases is in the offing.
Meanwhile, the issue of minimum wage is still in the dock.
Nothing has probably changed since the 2007 survey that showed that more than 57.8% of Malaysian households earned less than RM3,000 and 70.7% earned less than RM4,000.
Many villages in Sabah and Sarawak are still not connected by road and more than a quarter of households there do not have electricity. Furthermore, at least 50,000 families in the state are in need of new or restored houses.
In urban areas such as the Klang Valley, public transport remains a serious problem. Infrastructural coordination is poor and “networking” exists only in our dreams.
Municipal councils seem to be blind to the serious shortage of car parks, a shortage that takes its toll on housing estates and shopping centres and turns even the well-bred into inconsiderate motorists who have made a habit of double and even triple parking.
The rat population is increasing at an alarming rate in residential areas as night markets and hawker stalls sprout up everywhere and uncollected garbage pile up into mountains.
Highways and expressways that cut across residential areas are causing so much noise that we can only daydream about having quality sleep.
It was once said that in Malaysia, as elsewhere in Asia, the affluent tend to surround themselves with comforts befitting their status, shutting out the plight of the less fortunate around them.
But times have changed. There are problems everyone suffers, regardless of income. The decaying environment, traffic congestion and rising crime rates make life lousy even if you are rich. Bad governance and inept public administration affects everyone.
In 2005, Malaysia was ranked 36th in the Economist Intelligence Unit’s Quality of Life Index. By 2010, we had fallen to the 85th position.
If the quality of our life is not improving, should we change our lifestyle to suit our economic position or should we change the ruling regime? Perhaps Malaysians should be thinking instead of the quality of the government that they want.
Stanley Koh is a former head of research with MCA. He is now an FMT columnist.