Livelihood of yours and mind (2): earning capacity and distribution of income in Malaysia

I am extremely grateful and humbled by the generosity of the blog owner to allow me to participate in his blog as a guest writer. My views are mine alone and if you have a beef with what I have written, your objection should be directed to me and not to my gracious host.

While we bitch about high cost of living, we might grumble less if our take home pay is high. Have you ever heard Christiano Ronaldo complained about how expensive a Ferrari is and he ain’t gonna get one? Rather, he bought one and recently wrecked it by ramming it into a tunnel before the eyes of Edwn Van der Sar. (Unless of course, you are a rich Ah Pek who hides your money under the pillow and drink kopi-o under a tree and call Old Town Kopitiam “robbers”)

We talk about how expensive Hong Kong is as a place to live in. I have a lady friend who has to share a 300 square feet apartment with her sister which cost her HKD3mil / RM1.5mil and yet with her assistant manager’s pay, has traveled on her holidays to Europe, Asia and the Pacific Isles, covering a distance that the once might Genghis Khan can ever dream of. Eat your heart out, Mongolian!

The question is, how can Malaysians improve their purchasing power? A respectable assistant manager in Malaysia has perhaps enough money to go to Redang, Bangkok or Vietnam after paying off his or her car and housing loan. Apart from the inflated costs we have to pay for, the answer certainly does not come from having tertiary education institutions that produces tens of thousands of unemployable graduates who has a liking for walking about chanting against competition and changes in enrollment practices.

We need to create jobs that people are willing to pay top dollars for. We need to attract, facilitate and encourage businesses that generate high revenue and profits. We need to have sufficient qualified and talented people regardless of race, religion, sex and cultural background to fill post or if not, allow foreign talents to come in and provide learning opportunities to locals.

Singapore houses regional headquarters for many multi-national corporations and together with Hong Kong, hosted a number of international financial institutions. Even Shell locate it biggest refinery in a little island off Singapore.

Malaysia is still heavily leaned towards labour intensive manufacturing activities. Not only this command a lower share of the value added within the supply chain, we ended up propping up the disposable income of households in Indonesia, Bangladesh, Vietnam, Myanmar and God knows where else! Mahathir’s attempt to create our own Silicon Valley has given us a misguided housing development project instead.

Changi Airports are filled with Caucasians, Japanese, Koreans and who have you that looked like high- powered business executives. In KLIA, we have high numbers of Indonesians, Bangladeshis, Vietnamese, Burmese and who have you lining up patiently to be herbed to plantation, construction sites, factories or secondary forests.

Our government of today must focus on creating an environment that would attract high value jobs as well as top businesses into Malaysia and that involves liberating immigration red tapes, improving infrastructures & safety, improving turn around time of the relevant federal, state and local authorities, revamping our educational system and provide a more “fun and liberated” living environment.

We Malaysians also have to look at ourselves. Generally, our employers prefer to keep more profits to themselves than to remunerate their people. On the other hand, employees generally want to earn more and work less. The way Malaysians approach work is also short of creativity and innovation. While Singapore is already on e-filing of statutory forms for example, many of the Malaysian small audit firms tend to employ runners ferrying documents to and fro from office to Suruhanjaya Syarikat Malaysia.

Let’s be honest with ourselves. Which statement we hear more often in our work place? 1) “we need to brain storm to come up with a solution to this” 2)”well the previous guy did it this way so I am doing it the same way”. We need to constantly look at the way we do things to make our processes faster, cheaper, more effective and efficient. We need an education system that teaches us to think, innovate and a Malaysian mentality that allows people to be self-critical, experiment and learn from mistakes.

There must be a mid point somewhere for employers to willing to pay more and employees willing to work more. Decades of NEP have resulted in 2 kind of mentality. 1) “I need not work so hard because I am going to make it anyway” 2)”why bother working so hard? I ain’t gonna get it anyhow”

We need to liberate the mindset of Malaysians. I have the idea of making debating a compulsory subject in schools. Make debating sessions contribute 10% of the examination marks. This would force our students to think, articulate their thoughts, develop an inclination of logic over emotion, be more proactive hence become a better individual compared to one breed from hours of fact memorizing.

Malaysia also needs to liberalize union movement. Let employees have an avenue to defend their rights and a representative voice to talk to employers. The days of communism are over. If banks can have their union, why not the other sectors? We don’t see Karl Marx, Chin Peng and Lenin wannabes populating the leadership of Persatuan Pekerja Maybank do we?

Distribution of income is a big problem in Malaysia and is no way resembles the dacing insignia of Barisan Nasional. I have seen Sabahans’ attap houses built next to the tar roads above some stinking water patch and I have seen mansions in Damansara dan Taman Tun. In Japan and Europe the income gap is perhaps half of Malaysia. Again, how many of us heard the good old gospel of “it is not what you know but who you know.” Not many of us can go far if we do not know somebody of importance.

Malaysians need to look at granting opportunities to their fellow countrymen base on ability, not on network and relationship alone. One prime example is who is more qualified to be the Finance Minister of Malaysia from within UMNO ranks? Tengku Razaleigh who was one of the founders of Petronas or Dato’ Seri Najib, whose qualification to head the F Ministry is because of ….. can someone help me here???

The government of the day has a subtle role in moulding the people’s thought and practices, more than we ever aware. If our federal and state governments operate on open tendering, meritocracy, efficient and transparent mode hence allowing the population to feel the benefit of these practices, Malaysians from all walks of life will tend to follow suit. To prove my theory is right or wrong, it is up to the elected government of the day!

Lastly, another important role the government plays in distribution of income is its role in welfare. Let me ask you guys a question: “where is the nearest Jabatan Kebajikan Masyarakat around your house and what can you get from them?” Ok that was 2 but hell, here is another one “have you seen a JKM team walking about your neighbourhood identifying people that require assistance?”

My answer would be “No, but I have seen 2 alien spaceships, a herd of abominable snowmen, Bala the declarator, YB Hee Yit Foong and 5 orang bunian. Nope, ain’t no welfare officers around.” If there are 3 “yes” to the question, then there is a huge improvement in re-distribution of income from the haves to the haves not.

Lastly, all my best wishes to all in this difficult economic climate.

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