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Madani rice cost irrelevant if the poorest still can't afford rice at all By Erna Mahyuni

Publish date: Thu, 22 Feb 2024, 07:20 PM

FEBRUARY 21 — It's my birthday week so as always I take time off to do as little as possible.

The only activities I have planned are mowing the lawn, fixing up my raised flower beds and making room for vegetable seedlings because my ageing digestive system is forcing me (against my will) to eat as little meat as possible.

Goodbye beef, hello tofu.

I wish I could avoid the news like I do red meat, but that would be like trying to avoid breathing in Malaysia.

Right now apparently the government is marketing its own price-controlled rice but some people are rightly wondering if the effort would instead empower rice cartels instead of ordinary citizens.

Also as always, the government really is missing the big picture. It doesn't matter what price the rice is if the poorest of the poor can't afford it.

Just give people rice, Madani.

That would make sense instead of pushing Malaysians to sign up for Padu, which I think is a waste of money and resources when we already have various data banks that can be linked up such as the National Registration and the Welfare department.

Instead the same old, same old platitudes are being trotted out.

Malaysians aren't productive enough. The MEF definition of productive seems to be working two or three people's jobs on one salary, at the rates paid in the 1980s.

We need more skilled workers. There would be skilled workers if employers would train them maybe or at least not offer them non-liveable wages? It's astounding to me that there are some places offering salaries below RM1,500 in the Klang Valley.

Malaysians need to be better at budgeting. With what money? You can't budget money you don't have and I laugh at the recent pronouncement that hardcore poverty has been eradicated in some states when the soup kitchen I donate to is closing shop because food prices have risen too much.

Just a couple of hundred metres from my house a homeless person has been sleeping outside a shoplot for the past month.

If you drive through Kuala Lumpur late in the night you will see even more people sleeping under bridges or on dimly-lit sidewalks.

Too many Malaysians I know are just two missed paychecks away from financial hardship.

Take for instance one of my long-time readers, Jasmine.

Over the years she has sent me nice emails that I keep still in a special folder for letters from readers. So it breaks my heart to find out that she is now struggling with chronic kidney disease and her mother who has stage 4 breast cancer was recently diagnosed with brain tumours.

She also recently lost her job and her health makes seeking full time work difficult.

If you can spare a ringgit or two, you can donate to her at the QR code at this link here.

Consider it my birthday present if you do.

When I told another friend about Jasmine needing help, that friend was somewhat disbelieving when I told her about everything she'd gone through — from being put in a children's welfare home to be kept safe from domestic violence, experiencing sexual harassment at a workplace and her family members all struggling with various health concerns.

“You can vouch for her, yes?” That friend asked me.

To some people, the amount of suffering some people go through sometimes all at once seems unrealistic.

Yet in reality, Jasmine's story is depressingly far too common nowadays in Malaysia. People are struggling to earn enough to get by and medical bills compound the experience of poverty.

That's why to me, seeing those in government quibbling over the price of rice when there are people who literally can't afford to stay alive fills me with a miserable sort of rage.

I support statehood for Palestine and an immediate ceasefire like anyone with an actual heart would, but the health minister being gung ho about building a hospital in Gaza when our own public healthcare system is crumbling just makes me want to climb on top of a Putrajaya building and scream.

You should be nicer to Palestinians, our government says to an international audience but still we trade and play nice with Israel and the US because the trade must flow, like performative activism.

Someone on Twitter (I refuse to call it X) said that they weren't smart enough to have so many people around them be so stupid and that's just what it feels like some days being Malaysian.

Five more years till I turn 50 but some days it feels like I'm ageing 10 years in a day, fighting to still care even when most days I'm too tired to do more in my spare time besides sleep.

Yet even if it's hard, even when it seems there is nothing to look forward to, no escape from government incompetence and the crushing weight of capitalism, it costs nothing to care.

It can be hard to be kind. It can be harder to be good.

It is easier to be mean, to pretend not to see the world as it is with the casual cruelty of world leaders who look away from genocide as casually as they do from roadkill.

If you can see the bad things in the world, look also for the good and the meaningful. Cry for the wounded, clap for the ones who make the world better with song, with words and with their own hands.

Whoever's reading this, I hope you find some time to be kind to someone even if that person is yourself because the world as it is can be hard on all of us.

* This is the personal opinion of the columnist.

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