On the Beat | By Wong Chun Wai

Be prepared for uncertainties ahead

The company sought an insertion  in the diary section of newspapers.  In other words, while the company  was charging participants, including human resources managers, it  wanted free advertisement at the  same time.

The timing of both statements   which were not used by the mainstream newspapers  is questionable.

The union is making demands  when most companies have become  poorer as a result of the stock market plunge. Operations cost has  shot up because of the depreciation  of the ringgit.

At a time when most companies  have talked about downsizing  an  euphemism for retrenchment   unions are unlikely to have much  bargaining clout.

Although the manufacturing and  plantation sectors are still labour intensive, many Malaysian companies have put a freeze on recruitment, preparing themselves for the  economic uncertainties of the coming months.

The last thing a company wants  is to commit itself to more spending, if unjustified.

A cursory look at most newspapers' recruitment advertisement  section, which has become smaller   would give an indication of the  situation.

Such is the predicament of the  average Malaysian wage-earner.

Workers have been told to expect  lower increments, less overtime  and even retrenchment if the economic situation continues to slide.

While most workers are likely to  be reasonable, there will be cases  of rogue employers who will take  advantage of the present economic  climate to instil unnecessary fear  among their workers.

It is here that the leadership, the  press, the employers and unions  have to play a responsible role by  disseminating the right information to create a climate of confidence without being unrealistic at  the same time.

The political leadership would  have to implement more confidence-boosting measures.

Statements from leaders would  have to be consistent because contradictory stands would only send  the wrong signals to jittery investors and confuse everyone.

Political rhetoric would have to  take a back seat for now  the priority is to nurse the economy back  to health.

While they are answerable to the  various interest groups under their  respective ministries, our leaders  should remind themselves that  their commitment is to the average  Ahmad, Ah Beng and Muthu.

The press must play a pivotal  role by separating fact from rumour, especially concerning the  share market.

The fact that some of the vicious  rumours have been proven wrong  again and again has not stopped  even the well-informed from being  duped. Local stock market pundits  are sometimes ridiculously gullible.

For the wage-earner, it is time to  be thrifty and realise that no one is  certain of what's coming.

With 1998 just weeks ahead, it's  best that Malaysians remind themselves of the need to cut costs, increase savings and ensure a steady  income. Hold on to your job, forget  about job-hopping.

If you have just moved into a new  house, make minimum renovation.  Forget about spending RM20,000  for a modern kitchen if you hardly  cook or only use the “wet area'' at  the back, like many middle-class  families do.

Go easy on the air-conditioner,  the hot shower, telephone calls,  credit-card purchases and other  non-essential items.

Rethink your plan to spend  Christmas and Gongxi Raya holidays abroad. Even if the package  tour is affordable, the currency exchange alone will set you back.

Ask yourself whether you really  need a vacation in the first place. If  you must, holiday locally. If you  consider our local hotel rates too  costly, then put up with relatives  and friends.

If you have to eat out, go for value for money. Hawker fare is still  cheaper than restaurant spread  and fast food.

Car-pooling was something Malaysians, especially those in the  Klang Valley, used to sneer at. Perhaps it's time to put it into practice.

It's not just the petrol consumption; think about the wear and tear  on your vehicle and the maintenance bill. Do you really need to  buy a car, now that the loan interest rate is 10%?

Avoid spending. Save.

Take advantage of the high interest rates offered by banks. Shop  around for a good conservative local bank and save in fixed deposits.

Foreign banks should not profit  by default at a time when we need  to support our own financial institutions.

These things we do will help us  get over the rough part of our journey. We have to slow down our  driving, by projecting a lower  growth rate of 5%, but we will still  reach our destination.