7/10/2012: IN a recent survey conducted by Merdeka Poll Research Centre and a consultancy firm, it was revealed that concerns about high cost of living ranked second after illegal immigrants among Sabah voters.
Illegal immigrants topped the list with 53pc, as compared with high cost of living (38pc), unemployment (13pc); and welfare/poverty reduction (10pc).
Since the economic crises, high cost of living in Sabah stared down menacingly at us.
As a warning, any meagre improvement in workers' salary and wages is effectively mopped up by this voracious creature.
In recent history, we have seen too many inflationary increases in prices, but never had we enjoyed deflationary prices where prices were up for "red cherry" pickings, at least from the consumer point of view.
Looking back at the financial crisis of 1997-98, with property overhangs and debts all around, it was supposed to lower cost of goods and services.
It didn't happen that way; what happened was the debts were mopped up by recapitalisation and merger of local banks, while properties up for "forced sale" were not really up for sale, because banks were cautious in lending.
In lean times, we would expect deflationary prices of goods and services, but it was not to be.
Then the global economic crisis occurred again in 2007.
Fuel, transportation, iron, steel, cement, fertilisers and agrochemicals, rice and essential goods, you name it. The cost of everything went up.
It didn't ease up until 2010, but crisis came back again with a vengeance with the prolonged US and the Eurozone debt crises which are still very much affecting the global economy today.
The only consolation we were given is that Malaysia is "relatively insulated from these crises as it had low exposure to foreign banking".
Are we really?
Amidst these crises, the property sector continued to grow but with residential properties hitting record prices! A typical terrace house now costs beyond RM300,000 and even service-type apartment in the vicinity of Kota Kinabalu now costs more than RM300,000. You must be a lucky employee earning a household income of RM10,000 a month to buy such properties. Most properties built by private sector developers around Kota Kinabalu are targeting high end markets, with each unit property costing RM500,000 to a few million ringgits.
There are bad news for house buyers. Terrace house can cost RM800,000 by the year 2020. Recent price of terrace house in Selangor, according to CH William Talhar & Wong Sdn Bhd, is RM480,000 per unit.
President of Economic Consumers and Family Malaysia (Macfea), Prof. Dr. Jariah Masud predicted that the price of terrace houses in the Klang Valley would reach RM1 million in 10 years. She added that despite economic crises, there will continue to be increase in house prices.
- It is not a question of if, but when that will happen in Sabah.
It is well documented that prices of houses in Kota Kinabalu are among the top 3 costliest in Malaysia, after Kuala Lumpur and Penang.
These are sure signs that Sabah, indeed, is on course to become an unsavory high cost of living place to live in. This is unlike anything that we had seen in the 70's , 80's, and into the early half of 1990s.
Middle income earners and even graduates are finding it hard to even dream of owning a house, forcing them to defer house ownership or rent houses at rentals they could afford. This is not helpful to them at all.
The middle-income and the poverty income groups are as pitiful as ever.
If you don't believe, conduct a survey on house ownership among both urban and rural constituents.
The Government has come up with various programmes such as Rumah Mampu Milik (lit. affordable homes), Rumah Mesra Rakyat, in addition to housing programmes for the poor and hard core poor.
These are helpful to the rakyats, but should be made more widely available.
Many people lamented that such well-meant Government programmes had been marred by favoritism; well deserving applicants were sidelined or kept in the dark about their applications, while "undeserving" applicants were given first treatments.
But what is peculiar about the affordable homes programme now is that the price is proposed to be revised upwards (RM300,000), as Malaysia is set to enter high income status! Affordable housing becomes out of reach if the selling price is RM300,000 or more. That is toying with people's life and income.
The Ministry of Local Government and Housing as well as the Land and Survey Department have legal jurisdictions to formulate long term land use policy which include parceling of land for future housing development, as a buffer against tremendous house price increases. The last 4-5 year trend in housing and property price increase in Sabah, particularly Kota Kinabalu is really threatening.
On their part, key players in the industry should not be sold over to elitist mentality that goes against the Government's stated policy in ensuring affordable homes for every Malaysian.
If economic liberalisation and loopholes in the housing market are anything to go by, most of the scandalous increases in property prices today are caused by underhand tactics by players to allow foreign buyers or nominees dictate domestic prices. Developers, hence, use artificially inflated prices as their "benchmarks" for building and selling more properties at even higher prices. The upward spiral goes on due to speculation.
It is said that bull run in palm oil prices have generated a lot of money for the oil palm industry, so much so that cash-rich oil palm companies have worn double hats as property developers and planters.
With investments going into property development, the oil palm companies are surreptitiously also contributing to property price increases.
A number of oil palm companies in Sabah are building new townships and residential properties, right where oil palm trees were once cultivated.
What is made little known is these companies may once be beneficiaries of generous land leases from the Government to venture into oil palm plantation, but are changing the land use condition at their own will.
Lack of land as well as high cost of land acquisition is blamed by the private sector for the increasing cost of houses. If that is so, why does the Government not mandate a long term land bank policy for public housing?
Having such land bank that caters for projected increase in housing demand over long term (20-50 year) could be helpful as it reduces land speculation.
The truth about economic growth is, escalating costs of goods and services always accompany greater consumer sentiment brought about by signs of economic recovery. In layman's terms, however, rash of retail price increases happen at the hint of salary hike for Government employees.
Aptly, "Baru Kerajaan kasi umum naik gaji, kedai-kedai sudah kasi duluan naik harga barang-barang".
We often hear of stagnating salary and wages even in times of economic growth. The plight of the 1.3 million strong civil servants in Malaysia is quite well represented by Cuepacs, the workers union which works tirelessly for the betterment of their terms and conditions of service.
Fortunately for Malaysia's civil servants, the Government has always been forthright to revise salary scheme approximately within every 10 years, even sooner.
But for private sector employees, it is not unusual to hear of despondency.
Employers don't normally encourage workers to unionize, and even so only under restrictive conditions.
This is what an executive of a company has to say to me: "For us in the private sector, we only watch and hear the good news for our civil servant friends; we don't have any for ourselves."
(Kami di sektor swasta hanya menonton dan mendengar mengenai kenaikan gaji di kalangan rakan-rakan kami di sektor Kerajaan; kami tidak menerima apa-apa).
I dread the effects of illegal immigrants freely roaming the breadth and length of Sabah, as if this land belongs to them. When Datuk Seri Nazri Aziz said that illegal immigrants is not a security problem in Sabah, he is again insulting the intelligence of Sabahans. Isn't he privy to the information that thousands of illegal immigrants have become citizens over the last 40 years through the dubious IC Project?
Anyway, he couldn't be bothered because we are the ones paying for this folly which makes them eligible for land, forest, employment, license, scholarship and every conceivable right meant for the true Sabah citizens.
I still believe that illegal immigrants are the single biggest threat to Sabah.
This is because they have the propensity, through hook or crook, to become citizens of the State, and thereafter enjoying all privileges meant for the real citizens, particularly the lagging natives.
Now the natives don't have special privileges because these new citizens are also clamouring for the same rights as the Bumiputeras of Sabah. In areas where natives have been overwhelmed in numbers by these new citizens, the former have become second class citizens.
It is morally wrong and reprehensible for Nazri to repeat his callousness when touching on this serious subject of illegal immigrants, as he did in the past. If he doesn't have any feel for the grievous injustice done to Sabahans, the least he could do is stop commenting in such a rude, wanton and imbecile manner, and concentrate on improving his own constituency.