Thursday, January 31, 2008

Chilling Out with Gavin Khoo

Yes, I was convinced into a "Chill 'n' Chat" session with Khoo Kay Peng, a well known social and political analyst and some say, food reviewer. ;-)

For those keen on finding out what I thought of food at Chef Loong's, a non-traditional dim sum restaurant in SS2 (along Sea Park Police Station), "enjoy" the 10 minute clip. ;-) Or check out Kay Peng's other reviews at "Eat, Drink & Be Merry!"

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Racial Integration Starts In Schools

I was asked to give a talk by the KL Selangor Chinese Assembly Hall women's wing in conjunction with Oriental Daily last Monday on the state of racial integration in our country with a title "若即若離", roughly translated as "So near, yet so far (apart)" (View the reports in the Chinese media here)

It was both a sensitive subject and at the same time a very broad subject - basically not a very fun subject to talk about at a forum ;-) Hence, I limited my talk pretty much to the fact that for racial integration to work in this country, it has to start with our education system.

(Warning: Long post ;-))

Before I spoke, I asked the audience of about 100 on whether there were any others in the hall who had his primary education at a national school. As expected, I was pretty much the only person.

I spoke of the fact that I often reminiscence on my primary school days where there was a great deal of mixing of students of all races. Til today, I can meet one of my Malay or Sikh classmates back from Batu Pahat whom I've not met for years, and we can have an "intimate" coffee session talking about all things under the sky. I took part in Malay debates, quizzes, played football, badminton without having to worry to much about being discriminated against.

And for those who had followed my Education blog long enough, I've written on the dilemma of where I should send my 3 year old daughter to school when the time comes. For many Malaysian Chinese today, whether they are Chinese educated or otherwise, Chinese primary schools have become the default choice. Possibly, the stubborn, idealistic side within me continues to hope (tiny though it may be) that there may be salvation for our national schools.

I then listed down some of the recent outrageous examples of national school excesses in the last 1-2 years. Unfortunately, despite not having anywhere near a comprehensive list, I didn't have sufficient time to cite all of the following, most of which I've blogged about at Education in Malaysia.
  • Parents of Indian students of SK Sri Baki in Senawang are upset that their children, who are in Year One, were forced to take Arabic in school. Many of the pupils were forced to sit for the examinations even though there were no classes for the first six months, reported Malaysia Nanban.

    The officer in-charge of languages, Ustaz Hafizi of the State Education Department was queried, he argued that "headmasters were compelled to introduce Tamil, Chinese or Arabic to children of other communities."

  • An old boy of Kajang High School expressed his concerns in relation to the current situation at the school. He noticed seven new signboards with religious verses put up at some expense. The image conveyed to anyone driving up to Kajang High School is that one was entering a religious school.

  • The Star has reported a story in Batu Pahat, of a Punjabi student being asked to shave his beard, moustache and sideburns.

  • The administrators of SK Bukit Jelutong have told non-Muslim pupils that they can't bring "wet food" to the Children's Day celebrations, only snacks like murukku or chips are allowed.

    The school's senior assistant for curriculum, Ishak Mohd Zazuly, confirmed the directive and said the decision was made "to respect each other's religions. We are just worried that there may be non-halal ingredients in the food.

    Ishak said if non-Muslim children, for instance Hindu pupils, could not eat beef and had problems with the food brought by Muslim pupils, they should not eat it.

  • YB Loh Seng Kok said the syllabus of history textbooks ignored the contribution of non-bumiputeras and only emphasised on the Islamic civilisation. Terming it as "incomplete and imbalanced", he said the syllabus does not encourage critical thinking among the students.

    And as if on cue, the party that seems to attract plenty of members with way too much hot air, sent a team from Sdr Loh's own parliamentary constituency to present a show cause letter to their MP. 50 Umno Youth members, led by Kelana Jaya division chief Abdul Halim Samad, paid Sdr Loh a visit with an ultimatum.

  • Two netball teams from SMK Abdullah Munshi were forced to quit the Jelutong district inter-school competition in Penang. The principal of the school, Pn Fazillah Shaharim made the decision after being told that some players in the under-15 and under-18 teams had removed their tudung while playing. Apparently, the school rules prohibit students from removing the tudung during school hours or in activities where they represent the school, as reported by the New Straits Times. On top of that, they are required to wear long-sleeved shirts and long pants during sporting activities.

  • When there was outrage over an ustaz selling "holy water" to the students, the Perak Mufti, Datuk Seri Harussani Zakaria, one who is not a stranger to controversy, said that "there was nothing wrong with selling the holy water".

    "It's a form of prayer to enhance memory, just like gingko biloba is a memory booster... It is not wrong to sell it unless the ustaz is dishonest about how he produced the water."

  • Recently, in the beginning of this year, there was an instruction in English College, Johor Bahru which I believe came from the teacher advisor to the Prefectorial Board, that Prefects have to start wearing the Songkok as part of the official uniform. At first, the instruction was that it would only be required during "official functions" like school assemblies and during interschool events or major events like sports day and speech day. However, this has now been revised to include daily prefectorial duties.

    There are reasons to believe that the practice of getting Prefects to wear the Songkok, is a prelude to getting ALL the students of the school to eventually follow suit.

  • SMK Bandar Utama 4 Damansara recently appointed a new Malay lady as a headmaster. All this while, the school has a proud tradition of good old days where students can wear shorts for PE lesson, celebration of major Chinese festival like Chinese New Year, cheerleading team and secular school type of school assembly.

    Unfortunately, all these good times are gone with the coming of a new Malay headmistress who is a religious bigot. With 10% Muslim students, she is now imposing "bacaan doa" during assembly, banning of the cheerleading team, not more wearing of shorts for PE and the worse of all is that for the coming CNY, the school can have a lion dance performance by WITHOUT the DRUM.

  • Last year also saw Universiti Utara Malaysia attempting to implement a ridiculous dress code on all students, before deciding to withdraw the regulation following an uproar in the Chinese press.

  • Apparently according to Wong Chun Wai, in one of his editorials for The Star, a dean from the business faculty of a top Malaysian public university "makes alleged spot checks during lectures to check on the dressing of female students."

    Students who he perceives are wearing tight T-shirts or blouses are singled out. At least on one occasion, they were asked to bend down to see whether parts of their bodies would be exposed.
As we can see, these discriminating events happen at both the primary and secondary schools of our education system.And it happens all throughout the country from Penang to Perak to Selangor to N Sembilan to Johor.

Why is it that when I was studying in national schools before, I don't seem to have faced such issues? What is the government doing to prevent such irresponsible actions which affects Malaysian unity from happening?

Are these school teachers and administrators taught in teachers training school that the above actions are prohibited and they will be punished accordingly? Are they even punished for their actions?

And what are our nation's eminent legislators doing about it?

No, what you get is more of the same amongst the Barisan Nasional members of parliament. Most recently for example, 2 UMNO MPs called for religious symbols in all former missionary schools in Malaysia to be demolished.

Tuan Syed Hood bin Syed Edros of Parit Sulong said:
Saya rasa kecewa di dalam negara Islam, Malaysia ini, kalau saya pergi ke sekolah convent, ada terpampang patung St. Mary di depandepan sekolah convent...

...tengoklah salib Kristian diletakkan di depan-depan sekolah. Saya tidak faham Kementerian Pelajaran, adakah pegawai-pegawai tidak nampak atau memang dasar kita membenarkan perkara ini. Walau bagaimanapun, saya sebagai orang yang bertanggungjawab kepada diri saya, agama, bangsa dan tanah air ini, saya menyatakan pendirian saya bahawa patung-patung ini hendaklah dirobohkan, salib-salib ini hendaklah dimusnahkan dan pengaruhpengaruh gereja di sekolah-sekolah ini hendaklah dihentikan.
The above can only be construed that Barisan Nasional (BN) which comprises of 14 component parties are not interested in achieving national unity, but instead is only interested in further racially divide and Islamising our schools.

Why has it come to this state of affairs?

Very simply, the BN government has no political will nor intent to take action and make the necessary corrections. UMNO acts as the big brother in the coalition, while the others such as MCA, Gerakan and MIC serves as UMNO's apologists.

Take for example, the first instinctive reaction by MCA Youth Chief, YB Liow Tiong Lai was to attempt to defend the Deputy Prime Minister's statement (that it was misunderstood), when the latter proclaimed that Malaysia was "an Islamic state" and that it was "never, never a secular state". Or the fact that MCA President waxing lyrical about his beautiful relationship with UMNO, at the MCA General Assembly, no less.

In Chinese, the appropriate phrase will be "為虎作倀" - transliterated as "striking/groping rashly on behalf of the tiger". That's why, it is our fervent contention that a vote for MCA or Gerakan, is equivalent to a vote for UMNO.

In the meantime, Malaysians live peacefully but separately...

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

More on Polling & Counting Agents

There next training (in English) is held:
Date/Time: Sat (26th Jan 2008, 3.30 p.m.)
DAP Damansara Community & Service Center
55M ,Jalan SS 21/1A, Damansara Utama,
47400 Petaling Jaya

For more information, call 6017 339 3636. To ease our arrangements, e-mail your name and phone number to . Walk in participants will also be welcomed with open arms.

Do your part! Ensure a clean and fair 2008 elections - VOLUNTEER AS A POLLING AGENT and/or COUNTING AGENT!

To find out more about what polling and counting agents do, read on. ;-)

A polling agent is someone who sits in a polling stream (the classroom where the voting takes place) and observes the voting process. Each school may have a different number of polling streams (saluran mengundi) depending on the number of voters in that area. Each polling stream caters to a specific age group.

A counting agent is someone who observes the counting of the votes after polling closes at 5pm.

You don't have to be a member of a political party to become a PA or a CA. You have to be Malaysian and above 21 to register as a PA or a CA. This is done through the political parties.

A PA is armed with a copy of the electoral roll for that particular classroom, pencil/pen and a ruler. The PA basically observes the voter as he/she enters the room. The election officer will read out the voter's name, IC number and his/her number on the electoral roll. The PA will cross out the voter's name on the electoral roll to ensure that we know exactly how many people voted in that classroom.

A PA must be alert and take note if there are any irregularities, eg. the voter is female but the IC number denotes the voter is male, the voter is much much older or younger than the IC indicates, the voter is Indian but has a Chinese name, etc. The PA has a right to object and raise questions.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Cooking Up A Storm

My article on the cooking oil fiasco appeared in Malaysiakini column last Tuesday. I'll reproduce it here below ;-)

On 7th January, the Government imposed the shocking move of having to ration the purchase of cooking oil by Malaysian to 10kg each, to temporarily resolve its shortage. It certainly wasn't the first time that this drastic action has to be put in place. In 2006, the supply of sugar faced the same problem. Now, there's talk of potential shortage in wheat flour.

What is of note, is that there is no shortage of global supply of cooking oil, flour or sugar during this period of time. Why is it then that the Malaysian micro-economy appear to be failing so miserably?

From an economic perspective, the answer is simple. The Government's seemingly iron-clad price control mechanisms for basic essentials emulates those put in place by the failed command economies of the new defunct Soviet Union and Eastern Europe. Yes, believe it or not, it appears that Malaysia is a market economy practising impractical communist policies.

In the 1980s it is commonplace to find Russians queueing up in front of stores to purchase basic good such as bread and butter. In fact, I learnt to drink coffee with honey in Moscow as the restaurant could not secure supplies of sugar back in 1989, prior to the fall of the Berlin Wall.

The communist Soviet Union attempted to control the prices of all goods and services, the quantity of supplies as well as who produces these goods, independently of the global economic environment as well as the market demand and supply forces. It was certainly no joke when you hear of stories of factories producing only left sided shoes, without its matching right counterpart. As complacency, corruption, incompetence and downright obstinance sets in, the Soviet Union economy imploded, precipitating the rise of populist Boris Yeltsin and ultimately, the dissolution of Soviet Union.

Why would such command economy policies fail so spectacularly, when purportedly, they were meant to increase fairness, equality and equity amongst its population? Similarly, why did Malaysia's price and supply control measures meant to benefit the poor fall apart like the house of cards?

Very simply, the Governments attempt at all cost to give the false public perception, particularly before the impending general elections, of the impressively low inflation rate of 2% via policies which are out-of-sync with global realities are the real cause of shortages of essential goods.

Just as in the Soviet Union where there wasn't any profit incentive for businesses to thrive, local licensed and controlled producers have little incentives to manufacture and supply these price-controlled goods. This is because there is little or no profits to be made despite government subsidy given the record-breaking commodity prices in the past year. For example, wheat flour prices have increased by 70% in the international markets.

It is hence unsurprising that these manufacturers and suppliers choose to focus on other related products which don't face any price controls, such as premium flours or fine sugar. For example, non-general-purpose flour are sold between RM2.60 and RM2.90 per kilo while general-purpose flour is RM1.35 per kilo.

What makes the situation even worse in Malaysia's case is the heavily regulated licensing requirements for the production of these essential goods whereby competition is limited. For example, as the nation faced various supply shortages, the Government refuses to increase the number of permits to import wheat flour despite the call by Federation of Malaysian Consumer Association (Fomca) president Datuk N. Marimuthu for the Government to do so in order to curb price increases.

Such price-control policies which are substantially divergent from global realities will also result in a negative externality, that is the creation of a “grey market”. Due to shortages in supply in the Soviet Union, the “grey market” thrived with great incentives for traders to sell these goods at higher prices to willing buyers due to heavy pent up demand. This will in turn create a vicious cycle which exacerbates the shortage faced in the supply of these goods via the normal markets.

Similarly, in Malaysia, consumers are now facing significantly higher grey market prices. The Star reported on 7th January that a hawker complained that “lately, I have had to make more visits to sundry shops for my cooking oil supply. Some shops are taking advantage of the shortage and selling the oil at RM14.40 per bottle, which is 90 sen higher than the normal price.”

As for flour, it was complained that “wholesalers are charging between RM5 and RM15 more than the price-controlled rate of RM33.60 for the 25kg bag of flour.”

Of course the fact that our basic essentials are priced articifically low, the incentives for smuggling and foreign purchases becomes extremely high for traders to profit from the arbitrage in pricing between Malaysia and its neighbours, Singapore, Thailand and Indonesia.

The Government consistently blamed panic buying as a result of rumours of price hikes the cause of a shortage in cooking oil and flour. Unfortunately such panic buying and hoarding of goods is not the cause of the shortages but instead are the direct symtoms of an ineffective and distortionary price-control policy.

Hence when Domestic Trade and Consumer Affairs Minister, Datuk Shafie Apbal confirmed that these shortages were “artificial”, the irony is that he is indeed correct because these shortages were indeed artificially created by poorly-formulated, politically motivated Government price control policies.

Before readers complain that I have only provided criticisms and not constructive proposals to assist those most affected by inflationary pressures, we have in the DAP's Budget 2008 for Malaysia proposed various more effective measures to assist those most in need.

In the short term, the prices of essential goods will have to be more aligned to global prices to avert such unnecessary and embarrassing episodes of shortages. The savings in subsidies should instead be channelled directly towards the middle and lower income earners to help them cope with the price increases. Under the current distortionary subsidy mechanism, the wealthier segments of the population are able to benefit proportionately more as they have greater access to these goods either via the grey market or more funds to hoard goods, which in turn exacerbate these shortages.

We have consistently proposed that those gainfully employed with income lower than RM3,000 per month be granted a Malaysia bonus of up to RM3,000 to cope with these challenges. Such a measure will have the additional benefit of reduced leakages which results in unbudgeted increased government subsidies arising from smuggling and the grey market.

Over the longer term, it is critical for the government to raise the productivity levels of the Malaysian labour force which has not increased substantially over the past decade. The only way to beat global inflation is not to keep prices artificially and unsustainably low, but to increase income by a rate significantly higher than the real price inflation.

While the growth rate in Malaysia's economy remains “healthy” at 5-6% levels, it masks the fact that growth is driven strongly by the oil and gas, as well as the commodities sector via record global prices and not due to increased worker productivity, human capital and efficiency. Without the latter, which can be achieved via a real, as opposed to a rhetorical transformation into a knowledge economy, middle and lower income Malaysians, particularly those in the urban areas will continue to face hardship in their economic circumstances.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Volunteers Training

Hey, apologies for the late notice. I've barely had time to switch on the notebook in the past week to blog...

There's a polling and counting agent training for those interested in helping out with the Petaling Jaya election campaign come March. The details are as follows:

Date: 18 January 2008 (Fri)
Time: 8.00 pm
Venue: DAP Damansara Service Centre @ 55M Jalan SS21/1A, Damansara Utama, PJ

Hope to see you guys there! ;-) For those interested to find out what polling and counting agents do, check out my earlier post!

And for those interested in helping out but can't make it today, send me an email @ tonypua (at) yahoo(dot)com or call/SMS the DAP Damansara Hotline @ +6016 2208867. We'll notify you separately on the next training session.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

The End of Religious Freedom (?)

This post will sound somewhat apocalyptic, but I certainly do not think it's an exaggeration.

I wrote about the Christmas present for the Malaysian Catholic community earlier which never came. Well, it did actually, shortly after that when the Internal Security Ministry belatedly granted the Printing and Publications Permit for their in-house newsletter "The Herald". Better still, no specific conditions were apparently attached to the permit, for example, on the use of Bahasa Malaysia.

The renewal, despite the delay, led naturally to non-UMNO Barisan Nasional leaders praising the wisdom of the moderate prime minister, Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi.

The minister in the Prime Minister's department, purportedly in-charge of Christian affairs, Tan Sri Bernard Dompok said he brought the matter to the attention of prime minister a few days before Christmas.
“I think the permit is good news and the Government has given the Christian community a wonderful Christmas present. The community will certainly be happy to know that the Government is looking into their welfare and that the Government is interested in all the races,” said Dompok.
The Star in one of its editorials, commented that
...our Prime Minister Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi is a fair man... Pak Lah must have listened to the views of both Muslims and Christians by now and certainly he serves as a good appellant.


It is good that the controversy has been handled in a rational and calm manner. Many Malaysians, in fact, do not see the need for it to crop up in the first place, and we sometimes need to remind ourselves that we should not see any agenda or shadow in every action or statement that we make.
Alas, those rejoicing spoke too soon and it was not to be. In less than a week after the permit was "approved", the Minister in the Prime Minister's office in-charge of Muslim affairs, Datuk Abdullah Zin issued a press statement stating that 'Allah' is off-limits to non-Muslims, and its use is exclusively Islam's.
The restrictions on the use of the word “Allah” was still enforceable and shall be upheld as decided by the Cabinet in two of its meetings – on Oct 18 and Nov 1, 2006, Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Datuk Abdullah Mohd Zin said.

Abdullah, who said the Prime Minister had instructed him to clarify the matter so the public would not be confused...
Two critical issues stand out in the above statement.
  • Firstly, the Prime Minister has specifically instructed Abdullah Zin to make the clarification which means that unlike what was painted in the Star, he's not a "fair man", and neither is he "rational" or "calm".

  • Secondly, and more tellingly, the Cabinet, which comprises also of MCA, Gerakan and MIC non-Muslim members, have agreed with such discriminatory policies during the cabinet meetings in 2006. Are they not then clearly demonstrating that they are beholden to UMNO, and not instead, rightfully to the rakyat?
What is worse, is that the Barisan Nasional government isn't going to stop just there in the Islamisation process. You may have read from Sdr Lim Kit Siang's blog that the formerly prestigious English College (EC) in Johor Bahru now requires all its prefects to don the songkok on a daily basis. And as reported here in Malaysiakini, even children's books with cariacatures of prophets are seized by the Internal Security Ministry, headed none other than the Prime Minister himself, who is allegedly "serves as a good appellant".

There are countless of other examples on such exercises of (in)tolerance. The reasons given? Its the same tune that "the illustrations of prophets in the Christian children’s books are said to offend the sensitivities of Muslims".

Soon, the very presence of churches and temples in our midst will be deemed "to offend the sensitivities of Muslims". Or the fact that the mere mention of the existence of another religious belief which isn't in line with UMNO's version of Islam will be deemed a seditious offence, and hence outlawed.

Is it far fetched? Certainly not. Especially not if the rakyat continues to put on their blinkers and provide support to Barisan Nasional component parties who chooses to remain submissive to their lords and masters, the UMNOputeras.

There is certainly no other way of looking at it. I'm no apologist for PAS, but the way it is, the Barisan Nasional government led by Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, Ong Ka Ting, Koh Tsu Koon and Samy Vellu is certainly more fanatical in extinguishing religious freedom in Malaysia, under the guise of "tolerance and moderation".

This, ladies and gentlement, is the dawning of Abdullah Ahmad Badawi's Islamic State.

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Polling & Counting Agents

The Election Fever is heating up isn't it? ;-)

Well, for those who may not be able to assist for a large part of our campaign in Petaling Jaya, but are available nevertheless to assist on voting day, we need you to become polling and counting agents for the day.

We are holding 2 training sessions this week for the above agents, feel free to turn up at any one at your convenience:

Training 1:
Date: 10 January 2008 (Thu)
Time: 8.00 pm
Venue: DAP Selangor Headquarters @ 77 Jalan 20/9, Taman Paramount, PJ
Training 2:
Date: 11 January 2008 (Fri)
Time: 8.00 pm
Venue: DAP Damansara Service Centre @ 55M Jalan SS21/1A, Damansara Utama, PJ
Hope to see you guys there! ;-) For those interested to find out what polling and counting agents do, read on!

Polling Agents

Their job starts on the election day by inspecting that the metal ballot boxes have not been tampered. They also ensure that the boxes are securely locked before voting begins. After locking, the boxes are sealed by the election commission and each agent may place their own seal on the box.

The agents also ensure that the ballot papers given out to voters do not contain markings. In the past certain parties have marked the ballot papers for their own candidates. This will result in a spoilt vote which is discarded during counting. Some ballot papers have been coated with waxy surfaces to prevent voting for certain candidates. The agents ensure that these events do not occur.

The agent also ensures that, on the close of voting, the ballot boxes are still secure and the seals are intact. This may be done at a designated counting centre instead of the voting centre. The boxes are opened once the agents are certain that there is no tampering.

Sunday, January 06, 2008

US$100 Per Barrel of Crude Oil

United States crude oil futures hit past record US$100 per barrel for two consecutive days in a row on Wednesday and Thursday before settling at US$99.18 yesterday on the New York Mercantile Exchange. Oil prices has almost doubled from its low in January 2007 of US$50 per barrel increasing the likelihood of a significant economic slowdown for the global economy.

The United States government has in the last quarter substantially revised downwards their economic growth forecast from 2.5% to 1.8% for 2008 in the light of the global liquidity crisis triggered by subprime loan defaults in the country.

Singapore has similarly revised downwards their growth forecasts for 2008 to a range between 4.5 to 6.5% despite the robust 7.5% and 7.9% GDP growth experienced in 2007 and 2006 respectively.

The Government of Malaysia has on the other hand refused to face up to economic realities for political considerations as the next General Elections is expected within the next 3 months. It has earlier been forecast that the Malaysian economy will grow between 6.0 to 6.5% for 2008. However, in the light of the rising oil prices, the global liquidity crisis and consequently the global economic slowdown, the Second Finance Minister has as recent as 19 December continued to insist that the country will be able to meet its growth targets.

Rising oil prices will affect Malaysia's inflation directly with increased petrol and gas prices, as well as indirectly via increases in cost of other essential goods and services. Just as the Government has maintained its growth targets, it continues to live in a surreal world by declaring that inflation has increased by only 2% for the first 11 months of 2007 and will increase by only 2.5% in 2008.

The man in the street is facing major economic challenges as the prices of all essential goods and serivces including petrol, housing, water, milk powder, flour, rice, cooking oil, fruits and vegetables have increased by more than 10% over the past year.

The government must stop resting on its laurels by believing in its own imaginary world where inflation is benign. Instead of spending unproductive resources in punishing food stalls and petty traders for raising the prices of goods such as teh tarik and roti canai by 10 or 20 sen, the Government must focus on areas where the consumers are hurt the most.

For example, it is imperative that the government renegotiate the contracts with the toll concessionaires as well as the independent power producers which allows them to charge high toll and power rates which guarantees astronomical profits. Revision in toll rates in 2008 will bring RM350 million in profits for the affected concessionaires this year alone. Lebuhraya Damansara Puchong (LDP) which increased their toll rates by 60% last year are guaranteed RM18.8 billion in net profits by the Barisan Nasional government despite the cost of building the highway of only RM1.3 billion.

The Government can also ease the inflation rate in the country by removing the costly protection for loss-making Proton which artificially inflates the prices of transportation paid by ordinary Malaysians and cost millions in the rakyat's tax payers monies in grants and subsidies to the company. Proton made more than RM500 million in losses in the previous financial year ending March 2007.

While the Government may blame the rising prices on factors beyond its control such as rising prices, it must take the blame for failing to raise the real wages of ordinary Malaysians which has remained largely stagnant over the past decade. For example, the starting salary of a typical law graduate in Malaysia has remained largely unchanged over the past 10 years at RM1,800 to RM2,000 per month, in Singapore, starting wages has increased from S$2,000 to as high as S$4,000.

While Singapore has successfully transformed its economy from the doldrums of the Asian Financial Crisis into a knowledge economy driven by high value-added service industry as well as high-end technological and biotechnological manufacturing industry, Malaysia has remained heavily reliant on high commodity prices as well as the construction and property sector to spur economic growth. The former prime minister, Dr Mahathir Mohammad's vision of a progressive, modern and technologically-advanced knowledge economy has all but vanished into thin air.

Thankfully for Malaysia, the oil price rise is a double-edged sword for we remain a net-oil exporter at least for the next few years. Hence it is critical for the Government while taking the necessary steps to restructure our economy, to also look into the plight of the urban low and middle-income earners.

While the rural population benefits from record high commodity prices for example, for oil palm, rubber, coconut and cocoa, the urban middle and lower class benefits little from it while at the same time faces the brunt of inflationary pressures.

Therefore the Government must take the necessary steps to share the gains arising from record high oil prices, which results in record profits for Petronas. The DAP has proposed in its most recent budget for 2008 that employed individuals earning less than RM3,000 per month be granted a Malaysia Bonus of up to RM3,000 to help ease the rising cost of living in the country.

With oil prices expected to rise above US$100 per barrel in the near future, the BN Government must be jolted from its complacency arising from its own misguided economic statistics. It must wake up to the fact that real inflation is probably at near record levels for Malaysia and will inevitably hurt the local economy with dampening demand. It must redouble its efforts to restructure the country into a high-value added knowledge economy instead of just relying on the same old short term domestic pumping activities via the construction and property sectors. Finally, a responsible Government must empathize with the economic hardship faced by the urban poor and share a portion of the nation's wealth with all Malaysians in need, regardless of race or religion.