How Financially-Strapped Malaysians Celebrate Ramadhan

It has been a while that I have actually driven late at night in Kuala Lumpur, a city that city-dwellers claim to have become more and more unaffordable to live in.  So, I took a drive last night just to see how it looks like mid-Ramadhan.  I shun driving through KL towards the end of Ramadhan because there would be a mad rush for season end bargains.  The middle of Ramadhan should be alright for a drive.

I was wrong.  I used to be able to park my car in front of the embassy of Nepal on Jalan Ampang (behind St John’s primary school) and walk across the Klang river for a plate of roti canai on previous years’ Ramadhan night.  However last night, the jam started just after the intersection between Jalan Sultan Ismail and Jalan Ampang as cars tried to get to the Masjid India and Capital Square areas.  Parked cars lined the sides of Jalan Ampang from across Sunway Tower all the way to Jalan Melaka!

A friend who works at a very famous textile mall in the Masjid India area confided that sales this Ramadhan has so far exceeded the total sales for Ramadhan 2016.  And it has only been 15 days since the beginning of Ramadhan with another two weeks to go.

I have not gone to see the sales of Naelofar scarves.  If hundreds of dUCk scarves costing RM800 each could all disappear from the shelf within five minutes, I expect a mad scramble for the Naelofar ones which have gone on sale one week before Ramadhan even started!

What about the Ramadhan buffets?

Ramadhan buffets are generally dearer compared to last year.  I have had the chance to sample some by both invitations and personal visits.  I have not seen one that is not full, be it at one that costs RM65 per head or the one that charges RM218 per head.  And most are not corporate invites as they throng these venues in shorts and t-shirts, and often than not I see long tables of families, not co-workers, enjoying their Ramadhan buffet.  Even university students swamped the RM65 ones, something unthinkable back in the mid-1980s.

At one venue the hotel car park was full that I had to park next to the waste bins near the hotel’s goods delivery area!  I was lucky to have gotten that spot as I see scores of people having to walk from afar after parking their car by the roadside.

So, how oppressed are the Malaysians financially?  Is it true that it used to be better two Prime Ministers ago?

Consumer spending in Malaysia over 10 years (Trading Economics/Department of Statistics Malaysia)

If you look at the graph above on consuer spending in Malaysia over the last ten years, despite claims that RM1 could get you many things back then compared to now, consumer spending in Malaysia has been on the upward trend.  If you look at your social media accounts, even university students can afford to go on a holiday in Bali and Lombok now when the farthest they would go back in the 1990s was a weekend in Port Dickson.  Students in the 1990s could hardly afford a flight to Kota Kinabalu.

Consumer spending increased to RM152 billion in the first quarter of this year from RM150 billion in the last quarter of 2016 and averaged RM101.7 billion from 2005 until the first quarter of 2017.  The lowest consumer spending by Malaysian was in the second quarter of 2005 when it was RM56.8 billion and peaked at RM153.5 billion in the second quarter of 2016 – exactly the period when whining Malaysians complained without facts that the country is on the brink of financial doom.

As a matter of fact according to the Department of Statistics of Malaysia, the median and mean monthly salary and wages paid to employees in 2016 have increased by 6.2 and 6.3 percent respectively compared to 2015.

This is also helped by the fact that sales tax has gone down from the 10 percent sales tax (and 6 percent service tax) that were not fully remitted to the government due to the suspected underdeclaring of sales and profits, to just 6 percent Goods and Services Tax.

Sales Tax in Malaysia (Trading Economics/Malaysian Inland Revenue Department)

Corporate Tax, despite claims that the government has been charging corporations more, has been brought down to just 24 percent in 2016 from 30 percent back in 1997.

Corporate Tax in Malaysia from 1997 to 2016 (Trading Economics/Malaysian Inland Revenue Department)

Even the April 2017 numbers for Year-to-Date car sales figures in Malaysia had increased compared to the corresponding period in 2016.

And the government continues to make life more affordable in especially Kuala Lumpur, the city many big spenders complain is getting expensive to live in.  The Light Rapid Transit system that was originally built especially for the 1998 Commonwealth Games, has now been extended in service to connect Puchong and Putra Heights, while by 17 July 2017 the Mass Rapid Transit Line 1 will connect Sungai Buloh to Kajang directly meeting the KTM Komuter in Sungai Buloh and Kajang, while meeting directly with the LRT at Pasar Seni, and is within walking distance with the KL Monorail at Bukit Bintang.

The LRT will further extend from Bandar Utama to Johan Setia, south of Port Klang, and will be passing Tropicana, Glenmarie, Shah Alam stadium, UiTM, Bukit Raja, Sri Andalas and Bukit Tinggi.  The construction of LRT extension (known as LRT 3) has already commenced.

The MRT Line 2, which has also begun its site clearing phase will be from Sungai Buloh to Putrajaya, passing through Sri Damansara, Kepong, Jinjang, Sentul, Titiwangsa where it will meet with the KL Monorail and LRT Ampang/Seri Petaling lines before going through Kampung Baru, Ampang Park, KLCC East, TRX, Bandar Malaysia, Kuchai, Bandar Tasik Selatan where it meets with the LRT, ERL and KTM Komuter, Serdang, Seri Kembangan, and Cyberjaya.

Meanwhile KTM Komuter will have a service linking its station at Subang Jaya with the Subang Skypark Terminal.

These are all ways initiated by the government to make connectivity better and cost of living lesser for the people of the Klang Valley.  At least, no false promises such as abolishing tolls have been made, such as the one made by the DAP-led state government in 2007 which have not only gone unfulfilled, but also reneged on by introducing not only tolls for Pulau Pinang voters to shoulder, but also having to foot higher parking charges statewide.

Statement by the Pulau Pinang state government promising a tolled highway

So, stop complaining saying things are unbearably expensive because figures show more people can afford to splurge, and stop telling lies in this holy month of Ramadhan, for those who claim to be Muslims or decent, refined and educated human beings.

Real Growth For The East Coast

Graphic courtesy of The Star

The first rail line was opened in 1885 running between Port Weld and Taiping.  The line to the east coast running between Gemas and Tumpat was only completed in 1931, by passing major towns such as Kuantan, Kuala Terengganu and Kota Bharu.

For decades after that there was no real growth in terms of communications in the east coast.

As a punishment to the people of the east coast for not voting in the Barisan Nasional, aid to Kelantan was curbed and was changed into the form of ‘Wang Ihsan‘ in 1990, and the East Coast Highway terminated near Kuantan because Barisan Nasional was ousted by the people of Terengganu in 1999.

Najib Razak changed all that.

Phase 3 of the East Coast Highway which will terminate at Kota Bharu will commence during the 11th Malaysian Plan (2016-2020), as well as the East Coast Rail Link, a new rail link cutting through green fields.

The first phase will see the Klang Valley connected to Kuantan, Kuala Terengganu in the second phase and Kota Bharu and Wakaf Bharu in the third and final phase.


Announcing at the handover ceremony of the Ganchong Water Treatment Plant, he said that the GDP of the state of Pahang would increase by 1.5 percent when the ECRL comes online.

The Opposition as usual is opposed to anything that is good for the people if it comes from the government.

PAN’s Mujahid Yusof Rawa, for instance, questioned how it will benefit the local economy – and you do not need to be a member of Parliament let alone a rocket scientist to figure out the answer.

The ECRL will act as a land bridge for goods coming from the west coast going to especially Shenzen in China through Kuantan port, and similarly goods from the east coast get sent to the Middle East and India through Port Klang.

This land bridge would also allow goods from the eastern part of the globe be sent to the western part through these two ports without having to circumnavigate the Singapore strait.

This cuts down the over-reliance on the Strait of Malacca. Today, more than 80 percent of China’s energy needs pass through that narrow waterway.

So if you imagine it takes just four hours for goods to be transported by a lorry from Kota Bharu to Port Klang using the ECRL as compared to seven hours using the Gua Musang way or nine hours via the East Coast highway, you would be able to imagine the kind of economic growth the east coast states would stand to benefit from the ECRL.

No longer would SME or heavy industries have to be centred in the Klang Valley where the costs of land and living are far higher compared to in Kelantan and Terengganu. More jobs would be created and the luxury gap lessened tremendously.

The time for goods to be transported from Shenzen to Port Klang would be 30 hours lesser than having to sail them around Singapore.

Cost issues aside, this new network will create new alternative routes to boost trade for Asean, with Malaysia as the base; and why this has to be taken seriously is because the Chinese have a direct interest in the (Kuantan) port and the rail link,” said Mr G. Durairaj, managing director of maritime and logistics consultancy PortsWorld.

Already Kuantan port is home to several petrochemical companies such as the BASF-PETRONAS Chemicals. 

The port has also attracted RM8.9 billion worrh of investments including a RM3.5 billion steel facility.

The integrated steel mill will occupy a 287ha site – half the size of Singapore’s Sentosa island – and have an annual production of 3.5 million tonnes.

Imagine the size of investments that the ECRL could bring into the east coast states. Would you now question the benefits the ECRL would bring?