On the Beat | By Wong Chun Wai

Things aren’t all that bad

I should be in Malaysia but I am no longer prepared to skip another vacation, presumably because of an impending general election. There have been too many wrong guesses and I could be appearing in family court soon if the same reason is given for aborting another vacation.

The government has been blamed for everything these days, ridiculous as it may seem, and I have no intention of adding on a new one.

The best part of a long-haul flight is that you get to talk to people – that is, people who want to chat during flights.

One passenger reminded me to be appreciative of the little mercies in Malaysia. The gentleman from Perth complained about the high cost of living in his city.

He believed Brisbane, where we were heading, would be cheaper. Yes, the Austra­lian dollar has gone up but it has done nothing to ease inflation in his country, he said.

A regular visitor to Kuala Lumpur, my fellow passenger was well aware of the many stickers put up blatantly by loan sharks and money lenders.

He said I should go to Greece and Spain – these two countries have more stickers than us. He believed the money lenders there would even put such stickers on the bodies of human beings if they could. That’s how bad the economy of the two countries has shrunk.

Interestingly enough, as I update this article while enjoying myself at the Gold Coast, I cannot help but notice the slew of bad news highlighted in the Australian newspapers. For example, one report cited the plunging prices of iron ore and coal which would result in lowering government revenue by as much as A$10bil (RM32bil). The much talked about boom in mineral prices appear to be tapering off, and the downturn has impacted government forecasts.

And, of course, the reports are already talking about the chain reaction and how the lower-income households would be affected.

At the Gold Coast, I can sense that the Aussies are thankful that tourists, primarily from mainland China, Indonesia, Singapore and Malaysia, continue to visit their paradise on earth.

Sometimes we have to be out of our own country to appreciate the good things that we often take for granted when we are back home.

It was definitely a pleasant pre-Hari Raya surprise when Bank Negara announced that Malaysia was growing at a much faster pace than anticipated.

The Central Bank announced a 5.4% growth in economic activities between April and June, spurred by investments in both private and public sector spending. For the first half of the year, the economy registered a 5.1% growth.

The credibility of the news has been backed by the Financial Times, which described the country’s economy as “enjoying a gravity-defying boom that is confounding sceptics”, adding that the “impetus behind the growth comes from an ‘Economic Transformation Programme’ initiated by Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak when he came to power in 2009”.

Firm labour market conditions, income growth and improved consumer sentiments have certainly helped to push local demands. Government initiatives such as financial assistance to the lower income households and increase in salaries for civil servants have led to higher consumption, helping to offset the weakness in export growth.

Construction activities led the growth path, recording a sturdy 22.2% growth during the second quarter. No doubt, retail in some sectors has registered lower growth with mixed reactions over how growth would register.

Still, the news of a growth is welcomed when compared to Singapore which registered a 0.7% contraction for the same quarter. More importantly, signs of our inflation index decelerating have been identified.

In fact, the country’s Consumer Price Index is at its lowest level in two years with the 1.4% reading for July, according to reports.

In Europe, the slowdown is continuing and certainly the demand for our exports, especially palm oil, rubber and electronic and electrical products, will be affected.

Given the uncertainties in Europe and talk of an impending attack on Iran by Israel, the next few months will be challenging to everyone in Malaysia.

While the hearts and minds of many Malay­sians are on the general election, they must also not forget how much the economy and politics are tied up.

What Malaysians want to hear is how the country can do better at improving our living standards, cutting down on leakage and wastage, making our streets safe, better public transportation and killing corruption.

That is not too much to ask for and we hope the Prime Minister will address these concerns in his Sept 28 Budget speech.