Editorial: Our Ringgit has Shrunk

By Fathol Zaman Bukhari

I dislike going to the wet market, especially the one at Gunung Rapat as the traffic, both human and vehicular, is not something I enjoy. But on the insistence of my better half, I relented but not without protestation. The access road is always congested. Double and even triple parking is the norm.

On completion of her marketing, she would mutter this familiar line, “Everything has gone up. Your favourite ikan kembung (mackerel) is RM16 a kilo and the quality is bad. So, no fish tonight.”

I wonder whether the poor could afford such luxury today when ikan kembung cost barely a ringgit during my days in the kampong. The fish was then used as fodder for our cats and chicken.

I doubt our Aduns and MPs know the prices of food items and daily necessities. They hardly step into a wet market or a shopping mall. The only time they do so is when canvassing for votes during elections. If they do they would know how much the cost of living has spiralled over the years.

Chinese New Year is just over. The hangover has not yet dissipated as it can still be felt. But how many of us are in the mood of celebrating further as the rising cost of essentials has placed a damper on merriment.

I was at my favourite provision shop in Ipoh Garden last week hunting for cookies and vegetables. A container of kuih kacang (peanut cookies) is selling for RM25 when it was just RM16 a year ago. Kuih kapit (love letters) goes for RM 28 a container. It was RM20 last Chinese New Year. Many Ipohites are beginning to feel the pinch as prices of daily necessities go up.

No one takes seriously the optimism expressed by our leaders about the state of our country’s economy. They have predicted, for the umpteenth time, that we are heading for better times.

I am an avid fan of Singapore’s Channel News Asia (CNA) available on Astro Network. The reason is obvious, being our neighbour, the network reports news on Malaysia as they see fit. In other words, they do not mince their words or hide behind platitudes to express what they think of us.

When it comes to making economic forecasts of the island republic they are more cautious, realistic and objective. An expert from either the private or the public sector will be invited to discuss the matter with the presenter. It is on every morning except on weekends and public holidays. I have yet to see a similar programme on our local TV network.

Singapore had a rather rough time in 2019. Nonetheless, the island republic had a better haul than expected. While indicators show that the worst may be over, the experts keep reminding the people not to expect a dramatic turnaround any time soon.

Our ministers, on the other hand, keep telling us that everything is hunky-dory while you know it is not. And to top it all off, our Economic Minister has not fully explained how he ended up with so much debt as well as his tryst with a male subordinate which went viral last year.

The question of who would take over as Prime Minister has been making its rounds since GE 14 so much so it has become stale news now. Why we allowed ourselves to descend to such a level is beyond comprehension.

The common grouse I hear from many Malaysians is the ringgit’s rate of exchange vis-à-vis foreign currencies. We feel poor when we travel abroad. Business people who travel to Singapore for meetings find it more economical to return the same day than to put up a night in a hotel. Reason being it is much cheaper to do so. Accommodation and food will cost a bomb.

When attending courses at the army training centre in Ulu Tiram, Johore, I used to sneak into Singapore to buy fruits and clothing. They were relatively cheap. The exchange rate then was 80 sen to one Singapore dollar. That was in the mid-1970s today one Singapore dollar is equivalent to RM3.02. Back then the Singapore dollar was legal tender in and around Johor Bahru.

Hat Yai and Golok are two favourite border towns in Thailand. Food and lodging were cheap once but not anymore. One ringgit will only get you 7.5 baht when it was almost 11 baht many years ago.

While Malaysia’s economic growth has been stronger than Thailand’s over the years, we experience a higher inflation rate. And even as the rate fell it did not generate enough interest in the foreign exchange market.

The amount of international reserves of a country and its current account surplus are the other determining factors. Both Thailand and Singapore have far more than Malaysia. In short, they have more money in their kitty than we do. Period.

Well, what are the aftereffects of a weaker ringgit? Foremost, the prices of imports like fruits, cars, sports equipment and spare parts will go up. The nation’s food and live animal imports have gone up from RM38.9 billion in 2013 to RM51.3 billion in 2017.

Parents with children studying abroad would have to fork out more for their children’s education and living expenses. For employers, their operating costs will go up if they buy goods in USD. And if demand for their finished products weakens it means less revenue. So, the unfortunate few will not get their bonuses. But getting a bonus is not the issue here, remaining employed is.

Well, no one is spared when the country is not doing well. If a politician tells Malaysians that Malaysia is doing great he is bluffing through his teeth. And if he quotes figures to back him up, he must be high on ganja or air ketum.


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