I hope you've had a nice end to 2008. Relaxing, unwinding, taking it easy with family and friends … remembering there's more to life than just material wealth …
The treadmill starts again tomorrow. A new year with new budgets and new targets to meet amidst an intimidating backdrop of global and local economic headwinds. The newspaper headlines are still depressing, and it does look like it will be a tough year ahead.
With tough times, there will be increasing calls for the government to do more. And yes, I agree the government must help the most disadvantaged and poorest of society. But I am sure there'll also be appeals for help from able-bodied, capable, intelligent Malaysians, such is the subsidy mentality that permeates our society today.
Let's break out of this subsidy trap. Subsidies don't make us richer. They just make us weak and dependent. Our manufacturers claim they need cheap power and labour to be competitive. The reverse is true – it is cheap power and labour that have made us uncompetitive.
Power is so cheap in Malaysia that companies and individuals barely make any effort to consume it wisely. The best evidence – how many of us wear jackets/sweaters in the office because the air-cond is too cold? And take a look at the lights – both in your home and at the office. I'll bet there are more old-fashioned energy-hungry menthol bulbs and even worse, halogen lamps instead of energy-saving bulbs.
And consider petrol. While our businesses lobbied for lower prices, corporations such as courier company UPS in the US actively used their creativity and skills to reduce consumption. UPS looked closely at the delivery routes taken by its vans. It discovered lots of time was lost, and fuel burnt, as the vans waited to make left turns. It replanned routes to minimise left turns and maximise right turns, where wait times are far shorter. The result: Less fuel burnt AND greater productivity – one driver can now make more deliveries, which can then justify higher wages!
Cheap fuel and power only perpetuates inefficiencies, further weakening Malaysia's competitiveness against leading nations. Businesses in those countries actively sought ways to minimise energy consumption when fuel prices were high. These energy-saving methods are now part of their competitive arsenal; and they have an extra source of profit margin now that energy prices have fallen.
So, for 2009, let's resolve to use our brains and work smarter. Not use our brains to scheme for subsidies.
Happy New Year and cheers to a wealthier, more prosperous, more productive Malaysia!