We can’t expect Malaysia to get ahead by keeping our people poor

Erna Mahyuni
Erna Mahyuni

OCTOBER 2 — I wonder if there is a copy of Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged in every ministry official’s desk.

My pet theory is that it might even have been there before the last election, our very own equivalent to the Gideon’s Bible because after all, it is a tome that extols the virtues of selfishness.

While Rand might have despised how overstuffed our Cabinet and civil service is, she might have approved how certain ministers are approaching the economy.

One is freely schilling for developers, wanting to rescue them from their sad predicament — not being able to sell luxury homes most Malaysians can’t afford.

Another bends over backwards for businesses, even suggesting a deduction of 20pc from already meagre foreign worker salaries.

2020 is just months away and as far as becoming a high-income economy is concerned, the only true winner in that race is probably that CEO who “earned” an 18-month bonus.

The problem with how we’re selling our countries to investors is we keep making a case for how much cheaper we are.

We are cheap because we don’t pay workers very much when compared to our


It even appears that way in the corporate world at least; Thais get paid more than their Malaysian counterparts. Mentioning Singapore would just be rubbing salt in old wounds.

You don’t need fancy UN statistics to see the income divide in Malaysia — just head to a hair salon and flip through a high society magazine.

It’s all detailed there, publicly, almost wantonly, just how much so-and-so spent on finishing schools and yoga retreats as well as fancy home improvement projects.

Flip a few pages and you’ll probably see some people wearing outfits that cost as much as a KFC worker’s annual salary.

We have gotten too used to seeing our politicians build mansions, drive fast cars and wear fancy watches.

The reality is that where there is obscene wealth, there are also likely masses of people who were exploited to create said wealth.

Another reality is our so-called minimum wage is not by any means a liveable wage.

It is not prospering the nation to allow businesses to enrich themselves by paying people too little.

So what if Malaysians cost more than some countries? Instead of trying to keep wages depressed, our politicians should be justifying that cost.

We are, after Singapore, the most stable politically in South-east Asia. Our people are multilingual meaning there is less of a communication barrier.

We have a very literate population and are one of the most active online in the world, despite our challenges where Internet speeds are concerned.

Much as I chastise my countrymen for being grasping and overly tolerant of graft, Malaysians do have a lot to offer.

It’s high time the government starts appreciating our actual worth instead of playing the game of undercutting the competition. That’s getting old.

Pride in our identity does not lie in mere symbols such as a flag or anthem — it’s acknowledging our true worth.

In the meantime, please get started with the essential task of pulping everything Ayn Rand has ever written.

* This is the personal opinion of the columnist.

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