Atchafalaya Swamp

Saturday, March 11, 2006

Weekly Round Up, Sunday 12 March 2006

BBM Naik—Poket Celana Bocor, ABG meningkat

The past week was rather subdued you might say. The main concern on everybody’s mind was how to not burn further holes in their pocket.

The government of Malaysia, without warning, had decided to raise the price of petrol and diesel by a whopping 30 cents a liter—up to 23 percent.

I cannot say that it has burned a hole in my pocket per se, because I’m not around to experience it—yet, since I’m still insulated from the happenings in Malaysia by holing up in the boondocks of East Kalimantan.

A reader (Wahoo! I got one) was kind enough to point out a typo in that I had wrongly translated Kaltim (Kalimantan Timur) to West Kalimantan. Thanks. Also there were nice flattering comments signed anonymously but I think I know who you are, sir. Thank you and appreciate the support.

Now back to the story. Two Fridays back saw a peaceful demonstration led by “opposition” groups in front of Kuala Lumpur’s famed Petronas Twin Towers—the object of everyone’s pent-up anger—against the fuel price increase.

Why is Petronas bearing the brunt of this? Simple. It has made record profits recently and being the custodian of the country’s prime asset—oil, the rakyat demands that it help out in patching the holes in the rakyat’s pocket. After all, the story circulating around is there’s about RM 800 billion of Petronas profits unaccounted for. Surely by just diluting a tiny fraction of the alleged billions the government can help to stave off the price increase.

I can feel it in chat rooms and in newsgroups on the Internet, that there was a certain kind of lull in what was considered normal Internet activity. A car newsgroup that I belong to practically went ‘dead’ the following week after the price increase. It’s like the rug being pulled out from under your feet so to speak, the Malay term being tersentak sekejap. But it’s not just a momentary lapse, I tell you. It felt more like a few days before the chat rooms and newsgroups came ‘alive’ again. And this time the rakyat came out in force to vent their feelings in cyberspace.

To gauge a measure of the rakyat’s feelings on the issue, I like to point my browser to http://www.malaysia-today.net/ (MT). I am an unashamed to say it’s my favorite site and hold the editor Raja Petra Kamarudin (RPK or Pete, to some) in high esteem.

MT is one of the few online publications which acts as a pressure release valve for the rakyat to vent their anger in the various topics and the comment threads that follow. The editorial is superb and I sometimes wonder where RPK gets his information from. Sort of like a Deep Throat on the 'inside' somewhere?

He has probably got sympathizers on the inside and they give him the tips and leads he needs for his research. Anyway, his articles are extremely well written. I am only sorry that he cannot profit from his free online publication though.

BBM Naik—Rakyat Indonesia Menderita

Actually the Malaysian government wasn’t lying about fuel prices being the cheapest in the region. With Income Per Capita and Purchasing Power Parity factored in, prices are much higher in Indonesia—the equivalent of RM 1.84 per liter for premium unleaded. I’m not being apologetic for the Malaysian government though, but prices are, still cheaper. With their much lower incomes, the Indonesians have indeed suffered more, and will continue to suffer.

The drilling crew I work with had to have intercession from the drilling contractor in the form of a one-time lump sump subsidy after their last fuel price increase in November 2005. It was a paltry Rp. 750,000 (or RM 242.00) one-time pay-off for the karyawan minyak. It’s better than nothing they say. But it hurts to be directly associated in drilling industry, to see the oil companies and the drilling contractors make record profits, and not see any of it trickle down to their own pocket. Their pockets have long since burned, and worker morale have never been so low. Their concern in the burgeoning oil market is how to take advantage of it.

Personally I have directed some of them to apply to offshore work agencies like Bayong Services in Miri. For professionals like geologists and wellsite engineers I have recommended both Uzma Engineering in Kuala Lumpur and Sikom Supplies in Miri (both notable supplier to Petronas). I think some of their applications will bear fruit soon, Insya’Allah.

On the social front, the costs are devastating to say the least. Never has there been so many A.B.G.’s (Anak Baru Gede) in dangdut bars and karaoke joints that is causing society a big headache. Financial pressures have caused families to break up and children are forced to leave school early. Education costs are much higher in Indonesia with the country spending less of its budget on education—compared to Malaysia—but that’s another story.

One can only guess at what the future holds for our neighbors. Once dropping out of school there is little gainful work to be had. For the young ABG’s an option is to be an entertainment worker. Some say it’s a euphemism for sex worker. Some say it is a matter of survival.

One cannot sit on one’s high perch and proselytize if one is hungry, or one’s siblings need schooling, or parents are old and sick.

In my opinion the government is to blame, and by extension, we—the people—are to blame too, for putting them there in the first place. That’s why it’s imperative to have a properly responsible and credible government to prevent moral (and religious—for the religious) and societal decay.

So the people on their moral high horse, please put your nose to the ground, and assign blame where they rightfully belong before spewing invective on the unfortunate who are forced to rent their bodies as a matter of survival.

In Malaysia, you hear rants from families whose combined monthly incomes are below the RM 1500.00 mark the phrase “kais pagi makan pagi kais petang makan petang”. It’s tough to make ends meet, they say, what with payments for their Kancils or Protons and having to feed and school their kids, and putting a roof over their heads. They are by no means poor (since if you own a vehicle of some sort, you cannot be counted as poor can you?), but with cheap credit thanks to the government, cars can easily be bought, and then the real burden finally settles in.

In an advanced (I’ll say Utopian) society, the public transport will be so efficient that one will not need a vehicle. Think Kiasuland. I think it is deeply ingrained in everyone that the right to own a car is a basic right like US’s “right to bear arms”. But most of us own a car out of necessity because public transportation is so inefficient. It just makes our daily lives a whole lot easier.

That is if we can afford to own cars. Afford being the operative word here. The recent price hike has suddenly laid bare the fact that a large segment of society cannot really afford one, not with the recent fuel price hike. All other basic necessities will also rise in tandem. I heard that Electricity tariffs will increase and it’s only a matter of time.

These will further burn more holes in peoples’ pockets, and I fear there will be a terrible economic backlash. Car re-sale values will suffer, interest rates will go up and home values will fall. Yes sir, economic chaos, inflation and whatnot.

These events will certainly transform society and will put pressure on the government, or might even cause governments to be replaced (don't bet on it bolehlanders!).

In the meantime, please don’t be surprised to see more and more Rumah Urut sprout out in that beloved Bolehland of ours, or our young female IPT diploma holders (or even graduates) of the tubuh aduhai variety moonlighting in karaoke joints and such.

It has already happened here in Indonesia, and it is by no means a further stretch of imagination that it can't happen there in Pak Lah's Bolehland. (ASP/Mat Salo)