Still struggling to make ends meet

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KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysians earning RM6,000 and below a month are not having it easy, despite Putrajaya’s announcement that the national economy is performing well and beyond expectations.

The performance management and delivery unit (Pemandu) — a unit under the Prime Minister’s Department — and Bank Negara Malaysia (BNM) were gushing over the latest figures on Malaysia’s economic growth and the country’s gross national income, but The Malaysian Insider’s survey of 13 households in the Klang Valley and Penang showed that life remains tough in major cities.

For the five families earning between RM3,500 and RM5,000, they have stopped eating out except for once or twice a month in order to save money.

For the eight families earning below RM3,500, even eating at home was challenging. Some of them said they have had to cut back on buying certain meats and imported food just so that they can feed their children and ageing parents three meals a day.

Many of the breadwinners in this group admitted that should they get sick or were unable to work, their families would likely fall into poverty as they had no emergency savings.

This is the daily reality that these families are facing even as the government is saying that the country is on track to becoming a “high-income nation” by 2020.

According to a National Economic Advisory Council survey of household income in 2008, 80% of Malaysian households make below RM2,957 a month. The families interviewed fall within and slightly above that income band.

On Aug 15, BNM announced that the gross domestic product grew 6.3% in the first half of this year, compared with 5.5% in the same period in 2013.

According to English daily The Star, Malaysia’s economic growth “has once again trumped the market … accelerating faster than widely expected, thanks to strong export growth and robust private domestic demand”.

However, BNM expects growth to slow in the second half of the year.

At the same time, Reuters reported that the consumer price index, a measure of inflation, rose to 3.3% in June, up from 3.2% in May.

Following the BNM announcement, Pemandu chief Datuk Seri Idris Jala said Malaysia is on track to achieve its high-income target of US$15,000 (RM47,400) by 2020, if not sooner.

This, he said, was a result of the policies under the National Transformation Programme started by Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak.

Idris said gross national income per person had climbed steadily from RM22,313 in 2009 to RM31,799 in 2013, representing a 42.5% growth during the period.

But for burger stall operator Zainal Ahmad, 52, his annual income of about RM25,200, or about RM2,100 a month, does not feel like a lot these days compared with six months ago.

“In the past, the groceries I buy with RM50 can last us one week. Now RM50 only lasts two to three days,” said Zainal, whose six-member family lives in a low-cost flat in Section 24, Shah Alam.

Federation of Malaysian Consumers Association head Datuk Paul Selvaraj said the CPI did not reflect the actual pain that consumers feel towards rising prices.

“It (the CPI) does not reflect the goods that ordinary people buy. In reality, the goods they buy might be higher than the rate,” he said. — The Malaysian Insider

This article first appeared in The Edge Financial Daily, on September 2, 2014.