Tsunami of price hikes?

THE pain that many fear will envelop them from a prospective tsunami of price hikes has yet to kick in but rest assured that the inevitable will take place.

I am sorry to start the year on a pessimistic note but false optimism will get us nowhere. We, the people at large, have to discuss the matter and collectively work with the government and private sector to get us out of this veritable pickle that we find ourselves in. Malaysians are bracing for increments ranging from power rates to tolls that have crept up on us all of a sudden leaving many afraid that their slender financial resources may not be able to weather the storm.

How is it that everyone (I exaggerate, of course) is rushing, in concert it appears, to charge us more? Has fair play (and fair prices) been thrown out the window? In reality, higher charges for a myriad goods and services have been our constant companions since last year with many not really feeling the pinch due to the manner in which prices went up intermittently by a fraction.

Much like the proverbial frog in water that grew warmer gently but surely until the heat became unbearable. In truth, our ringgit buys less today than it did last year. And it appears that this will very much be the trend in the foreseeable future.

What then is the fate of the ordinary wage earner whose purchasing power is diminishing at a faster rate than the annual increase in income? Not exactly encouraging news given the warning a couple of days ago that some employers may be giving smaller bonuses and salary increments this year.

And certainly not palatable information to the many retirees from the public and private sectors. Government pensioners are not exactly ecstatic everytime there is an across the board hike in public sector salaries as pensions do not appear to keep pace with price hikes.

As for those who retired from the private sector, the outlook appears rather bleak as jobs become increasingly hard to come by at their age.

Some of those depending on Employees Provident Fund savings to get by fear that their money may not last them for too long with medical exigencies making their unhealthy presence felt and old age imposing its costs in so many other ways.

So where does that leave the average consumer? I think it is time that consumers organise themselves better to avoid getting a raw deal from traders at all levels.

I am not besmirching the honest traders who make reasonable profits by giving the consumer a fair price for a product or service. Not for a moment do I begrudge traders their fair profit as they too have families with all attendant costs. My beef is with profiteers who use any excuse for a better profit.

Malaysians have to identify the areas where they spend the most and seek to keep costs at reasonable levels. I use the word "reasonable" as I am cognizant of the fact that we do not live in a vacuum with international price trends directly affecting our economy.

Be that as it may, the time has come for middle Malaysia (the rich may not arguably feel the pinch like the middle class and poor do) to sit up and take an active interest in the mechanics of price hikes. I am sure there are retired economists, entrepreneurs, consumerists, academics, statisticians and managers with a reservoir of experience who can join hands to identify the way in which prices are increased.

They can also point out to government areas of unjustified increases in prices for the executive to act on. They can also work with the private sector to rationalise price hikes. I am curious about how much profit traders make in any sale or transaction.

Is there any authority that keeps tabs on these things or is it a laissez-faire system where everyone makes as much profit as they want? The argument may be made that no one is forcing anyone to buy at a particular shop or outlet. Willing buyer, willing seller as the saying goes.

And therein lies the rub as unwilling buyers are now forced to buy at willing outlets that don't mind inflating prices as they have a captive audience.

Is there a choice available to consumers? Not really. Those in housing estates are at the mercy of sundry shops that charge 20-30% more than some supermarkets which in turn charge 20% or more than hypermarkets.

Can we have a directory of enterprises for the consumer to refer to for fair prices? Can someone get this going on the internet for the public good? There are a whole raft of things that the consumers can do if we put our collective mind to it. Remember. We are a potent force who can make or break businesses.

Even as I delve into the litany of woes facing the average consumer, I want to highlight the plight of the poor who earn meagre salaries and are struggling to make ends meet. The poor will always be with us and it is incumbent on everyone else to come to their aid, irrespective of their race or religion. Poverty strips everyone of their dignity and right to a decent life. As Alexander Pope's immortalised saying "hope springs eternal in the human breast" resonates in my mind, I want to end on a similar note.

I pray that Malaysians journey through this year as best as they can given the strength of human spirit which can rise to the occasion as and when necessary. Happy New Year.

I RETURNED from abroad last Saturday, landing at the Low Cost Carrier Terminal (LCCT) in the wee hours of the morning. As three flights landed at almost the same time, the pedestrian lanes were busy with passenger traffic.

The joy of returning home was, however, marred by a number of things that could have been avoided if those in charge of the airport had done their job that day. he first hurdle was the fact that the escalator was out of service. I saw old men and women struggle with their hand luggage as they climbed the flight of steps with no one to help them.

As we stood in line at the immigration checkpoint, the manual line seemed to move faster than the autogate when logic dictates that it should have been the other way around. We later found that only one gate had been opened for three plane loads of exhausted people.

The baggage carousel area was another disaster as hundreds of weary travellers tried to keep their cool as they tried to negotiate around a sea of trolleys. Clearly the place was not made for a large crowd. If anyone thought that this was the end of their woes, they were sorely mistaken.

The taxi line was overflowing with passengers, some with children, with nary a taxi in sight. The attendant on duty told me that this had been the case the whole day. I know that the LCCT is a no-frills area but please have a heart for those who use it. We are not second class travellers and deserve the same conveniences available at the Kuala Lumpur International Airport (KLIA).

Not that some of those landing there are not complaining either. A friend flew in the other day with an aged relative and was unable to find a single trolley. The other problem was that not one premier taxi was available.

I believe we have the infrastructure in place at our airports. It's just that monitoring is below par. Lets hope that Visit Malaysia Year 2014 will not be marred by these hiccups in an otherwise good system.

Balan Moses, theSun's executive editor (news), like many other Malaysians, feels for the poor, the underprivileged, the disabled and those barely keeping their nose above water. He wants to galvanise Malaysians to put their best foot forward to help the underclasses live decently with pride and dignity even as those blessed more in every respect do their bit for their lesser Malaysian cousins. Feedback: bmoses@thesundaily.com