Almost everything costs more

ARE you feeling the pinch? Are you among those caught in the web of price increases that is weighing you down every month?

These are most certainly not rhetorical questions but queries based on what the people are feeling. Many are feeling the pain where it truly hurts: in the wallet.

A 10% hike in prices all round will be felt most acutely by wage earners, who I am hearing, also feel the annual increments they just received have not kept up with the rising cost of living.

To be fair to all, this may be just a gut feeling for many as no real study has been done lately on how Joe Public is weathering the price storm.

But weathering it Malaysians are, some in a better fashion and others not quite so.

The litany of complaints I receive from all segments of society on the cost of living reveals a common thread running through their lives.

The better off are digging in for the long haul, their lifestyles less flamboyant than in the past. Those managing on just enough are forced to come up with new methods of making ends meet.

The other day, I paid RM7 for a plate of Hokkien mee at a shop in Paramount Garden, Petaling Jaya, that cost me RM1 in my favourite shop in Brickfields in the mid-sixties.

I nearly fell off my chair when I coughed up the unheard of amount for a most unsatisfactory meal that needed a char siew pow to eventually satisfy the hunger that gnawed at my vitals that night.

Not only was the quantity miserably smaller than I remember it to be, the quality left a lot to be desired with a minuscule prawn and microscopic pieces of meat to appease the appetite.

Back then, it was a treat that we children enjoyed come salary day at the end of the month when salaries received saw a few treats for the family.

The "black mee", as we called it, was eaten with small portions of rice to ensure that everyone in the family had a taste of the delicacy.

I purposely use the prices of food in this column as a barometer to gauge price hikes as the antennas of Malaysians, food lovers that we are, go up where anything connected to food is concerned.

And right now, there is a nasty taste in our mouths as higher prices of our favourite morsels and smaller portions to boot assail us. Coupled with a general across the board increase in prices, this unkind state of affairs is just too much to stomach.

The price hikes have sneaked up on us, innocuous as they were, coming in painless little increases like in the case of the proverbial frog in slowly heated water that only realised that it was being boiled to death one fine day when the heat was too much to bear.

We have woken up to the fact that salary increases do not commensurate with price hikes.

And therein lies the rub.

I have written, ad nauseam it seems in past months, about the claustrophobia many feel about being caught in a little room called Malaysian life where the air is stiflingly hot with price increases, the respite expected from the authorities not all there.

All we hear about are veiled threats from the powers that be that the proverbial stick will come down hard on traders who raise prices at their whim and fancy.

And are the traders bothered? I think not, what with prices skyrocketing daily irrespective of stentorian warnings mouthed by those in authority.

Everything, I exaggerate not, is more expensive these days.
Even death comes with additional cost, coffins and the paraphernalia connected with funerals costing an arm and a leg.

Ironic really when one considers that the dearly departed would have thought that they were truly leaving the ugly reality of belt tightening and lighter wallets behind.

Some are also talking of the realpolitik behind a rapidly increasing cost of living where voters, also consumers, may balk at what is being done to alleviate their collective financial woes.

A tad dramatic really I think but nothing in any event to sneer about.

Many think there must be more bite in actions by the authorities to keep prices at reasonable levels besides helping to ameliorate the effects of price hikes.

A grand and comprehensive plan has to be devised to monitor and act against knee-jerk price hikes embarked upon by jittery traders without an inkling of an idea how their actions are hurting the public.

There is talk about going after profiteers. And who are the profiteers, I ask?

Just like England was once called a nation of shopkeepers, I believe we are a nation of profiteers with just about everyone buying and selling jumping on the bandwagon in raising prices.

There are, of course, justified increases where fuel is involved, sugar is used, electricity is connected with, and where commercial vehicle owners may have to pay higher tolls.

When will the price hikes end? Or is the right question that of whether they will ever end?

The way things are going, there may be no answers to these vexing questions on what awaits us at the end of the tunnel.

It may seem that I am putting only the federal authorities on the mat over price hikes. I want to ask those states under Pakatan Rakyat rule about what they are doing to reduce the financial burden on the man on the street. Talk to us about your plan of action; seek public opinion on what could be done to bring the smiles back on Malaysian faces.

This goes doubly for the federal government that was given the mandate to ensure that Malaysians enjoy a standard of living equal to the collective wealth of the nation.

No one can deny that we live in a wealthy nation with a myriad of well-heeled people but with many just getting by.

It is incumbent on the affluent to look after the needs of their poorer cousins. This may not be legally enforceable but it is most certainly a moral imperative.

Balan Moses, theSun's executive editor (news), is hungry for news from the federal government that it is on top of the price-hike issue. Many are not convinced that this is the last we are hearing of prices going up. Trepidation seems to be the sentiment of the day. Comments: bmoses@thesundaily.com