14 January 2018

The Irresponsible Society

SOCIETY as a whole is often generalised by common characteristics that are deemed pervasive whether or not that act of generalisation is fair or not. Such is the nature of society itself to be unforgiving towards itself. Everybody is fine when positive conclusions are made but everybody gets jittery when the bad act of some segments are extrapolated to the entire population.

Last Saturday I encountered two good examples of bad habits that can be easily generalised as our society's shortfall when it comes to their responsibility as the citizens of the country. At the Gegaria festival at Setia Alam Convention Centre, I saw a truck organised by the elections commission, Suruhanjaya Pilihanraya (SPR). In my mind, what a great effort to persuade citizens to be responsible. There was a queue, which is good.

As I see some people walking by, I stopped them, out of curiosity, and asked, "Excuse me Sir/Madam, may I ask why aren't you queing to register as a voter?" To my surprise, I got many "irresponsible" replies. Replies that warrant the generalisation about our society. These irresponsible attitude is apparent acros all walks of life be it the different age groups, ethnic groups and any basic demographic.

We have people who have turned twenty one but did not register as voters because they felt it is unimportant and a waste of time or even simply "I do not have the time" type attitude. We have people who have registered but could not be bothered to vote because of the same reasons. We also have people who have conveniently booked their time that clashes with the elections for overseas leisure holidays.

When probed further, these people do have concerns over govermental matters such as taxes, the education system, health matters, public transportation issues, cost of living, income disparity, ethnic tensions, crime rates, public service quality, religion and many more matters that are important and require government intervention.

How on Earth are we, the good citizens of the country, are going to exercise our rights on these matters other than via the power of our votes? Are we going to continue barking on the social media platforms or march down the roads all dressed in one colour be it yellow or red? Are we going to continue embracing this irresponsible attitude and let our children follow our habit, our bad habit (being irresponsible voters)? Especially when the 14th General Election is just around the corner.

The second encounter is the attitude of wanting everything for free. It is as if we are treating other people's generosity as our right (to consume for free). We are not a socialist society. We are a moderate capitalist country. We are the believers of working hard and honestly to rightfully earn income and make our wealth grow. Our economy is the exchange of supply and demand. That social contract (supply vs demand) is sacred. Once we ignore it, we will literally become a society of thieves.

For example, a friend complained "Why is there a lot of advertisements on our national television channels? Why do we have to still pay tolls for the highways? If education is free, I should not even have to contribute via the PIBG (Parents-Teachers associations). Parking should be free. Hospitals are too expensive." The list is long with no ending. I hope these people realise that these matters are also relevant to the issue of being a responsible voter as discussed earlier.

I will not address all of the above but I will talk about television advertisements. The programmes you watch on the Free-to-Air Television (FTA TV) channel such as TV3, are free. You do not have to pay a single Sen. Now imagine, how on Earth will TV3 pay the salaries of their workforce? Those engineers, those cameramen, the TV hosts, the journalists and many more, are also entitled to earn income in this moderate capitalist country like all of you. They too have the rights as the citizens of the country.

There are also other costs such as telecommunication services, commissioning production houses, rental expenses and many more expenditure required of a TV station. How do they (TV stations) pay for these? Will the money fall from the sky? Well, this is why they have money coming from the advertisers. This is why there are advertisements.

What is more saddening, not only we want things for free, we are not alarmed with our habit of consuming pirated products especially those content that can be downloaded or streamed from the pirate sites. By law, this behaviour can be charged as a criminal offence as our country is a member of the Berne Convention for the Protection of Literary and Artistic Works (usually known as the Berne Convention, an international agreement governing copyright, which was first accepted in Berne, Switzerland, in 1886).

So are we an irresponsible society?

05 January 2018

Yay! No More Tolls!

1 JANUARY 2018 marks the first day of no road tolls for Batu Tiga Shah Alam and Sungai Rasau. Presumably because these two spots carry heavy loads of traffic for vehicles going in and out of Kuala Lumpur for early mornings and end of work later in the day.

In any case, many people who used to pay tolls at these spots are in joy as they will now save approximately RM2.20 per day. That is RM44.00 per month assuming 20 working days a month. Times 12 months and you will get RM528.00 savings per year. For the B40 income earners, that is significant. It accounts for 1 nasi lemak bungkus every working morning for breakfast.

Rightfully, and for simple reasons, when the Government abolishes tolls, people should be happy. All this while there were many complaints about cost of living especially when Goods and Services Tax (GST) was introduced a few years back. People asked how are they going to be benefited. It was widely urged that the GST monies should go back to the citizens via many forms of subsidies.

So, here we have one of those subsidies that we have been waiting for - to improve cost of living - to use GST monies socialistically. Why is it a subsidy? Well, the Government has to pay compensation of approximately RM100 million a year to the road concession owners (Plus Highways under UEM Berhad (UEM)) to make up for the lost of revenues arising from the abolishment of those tolls. Multiply that by the remaining years of the concession (20 years by the end of 2038), the subsidy will be RM2 billion.

For the B40, they will not care for the owners of the concession. They are only worried about their cost of living. So, generally they should and are happy with this piece of benefit arising from the 2018 Budget that was approved in the Parliament last year. However, for the more sophisticated and savvy citizens, they question the move especially when it is perceived as a popular stunt for the upcoming General Election.

The question they asked was why it took so long for the concession to end and that the roads should be free for all by now. It was reported by many sources that UEM, via Plus spokes person, that the concession expiry was  extended from 2018 to 2038. The extra 20 years are needed in order to generate enough cash flows to cover costs and repay loans taken to build those roads. This relocation of goal post is warranted by the decision made by the Government to not allow any increase in toll rates.

It was reported that the one way rate of RM1.10 last charged on 31 December 2017 was supposed to have been increased gradually over the past many years to be at a viable rate of RM2.40. In fact, it could have been much higher than RM2.40 under the original concession where the rates would have increased by either 10% every 2 years or 15% increase every 3 years.

This (non-increase in toll rates) happened all in the name of protecting the cost of living from being inflated - to move at the pace of disposable income growth - to ease the burden of the citizens. The Government, through the compensation, essentially pays itself (51%) via UEM and (49%) via Employee Provident Funds (EPF) as those entities are the contributors to the highways. This way, those entities are able to pay of their loans and simultaneously address the citizen's cost of living concerns.

One might criticise that this is a political stunt to win the hearts of the people. However on the flipside, people are expecting benefits to be flowed back to them after taxes have been collected. So, regardless of whether it is an election year or not, this was going to happen anyway. In fact, every year's budget will always have elements of winning the people's heart.

So, I would like to suggest my fellow Malaysians to not over analyse (and consequently to not be so negative about it) and take a good news as how a good news is supposed to be taken - i.e. be happy! Yay! No toll for people from Shah Alam, Klang and the region just beyond Sungai Rasau.

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