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23 November 2012

Merenung krisis ekonomi

Oleh: DR. RAMLAH ADAM

APABILA berlaku kejatuhan nilai ringgit dan kemelesetan ekonomi negara, saya teringat sebuah episod sejarah Malaysia pada tahun 1930-1931. Di tahun-tahun tersebut, negara ini yang terletak di bawah penjajahan British, mengalami kemelesetan ekonomi akibat kejatuhan harga getah, bahan eksport utama negara ke tahap paling rendah.

Ia berlaku setelah perusahaan itu mengalami satu tempoh kegemilangan yang paling memuaskan sejak tahun 1905. Tanah Melayu telah menjadi pembekal utama dunia dan dengan itu lebih banyak kawasan hutan dibuka oleh pelabur-pelabur Barat dan Cina untuk tujuan tersebut.

Namun, apabila kawasan-kawasan lain di Borneo dan Indonesia dibuka, pertandingan mula berlaku dan harga getah mula menurun sehingga menyebabkan kemelesetan pada 1920-21. Kemelesetan 1930-31 adalah kemelesetan yang kedua, yang lebih teruk lagi.

Walaupun, kemelesetan ekonomi kerana kejatuhan harga getah itu telah berlalu dan berbeza dari sebab kegawatan ekonomi sekarang, namun prinsipnya tetap sama. Ia tetap merupakan satu masalah kepada negara, terutama kepada orang ramai yang berpendapatan rendah dan miskin.

Ia tetap meninggalkan keperitan kepada rakyat jelata yang hidup 'kais pagi makan pagi' atau golongan sederhana yang bergantung kepada gaji atau perniagaan kecil di tepi-tepi jalan. Ia memang juga memberi kesan kepada ahli-ahli perniagaan besar, ahli korporat dan saudagar serta orang kaya, tetapi aset mereka tetap ada untuk menjadi payung menghadapi kemelut ekonomi ini.

Untuk itu, adalah cukup menarik untuk kita menginsafi keadaan ini dengan melihat sejauh mana kesusahan dan kesan kemelesetan ekonomi kepada rakyat jelata pada tahun 1930-31. Ini untuk menjadi iktibar dalam menghadapi kemelesetan ekonomi hari ini. Ia juga boleh menjadi pendorong untuk kita menghadapi kegawatan ekonomi negara dengan lebih sabar dan bijaksana.

Kebanyakan penduduk kampung pada masa itu tidak dibenarkan membuka ladang besar. British telah membuat undang-undang mengenainya; penduduk kampung hanya boleh membuka kebun kecil yang kurang dari seratus ekar.

Sebuah skim yang dikenal sebagai Stevenntion Scheme telah diperkenalkan pada awal 1920-an bagi menentukan kuota keluaran pekebun kecil demi untuk melindungi ladang-ladang besar milik pelabur Eropah dan Cina. Ini tentunya memberi kesan kepada pekebun-pekebun kecil.

Oleh itu, di dalam akhbar-akhbar, penderitaan pekebun-pekebun kecil sentiasa diluahkan oleh penulis-penulis yang berjiwa kebangsaan dan prihatin terhadap kemiskinan orang kampung. Warta Malaya, akhbar yang berpusat di Singapura, pimpinan Syed Husein Alsagop dan pengarangnya, Onn bin Jaafar, telah memberi perhatian yang lebih dalam hal tersebut. Dengan membaca akhbar ini, kita dapat lihat bagaimana kesan kemelesetan ekonomi itu kepada orang Melayu dan pekebun kecil lain, serta langkah-langkah yang dibuat oleh kerajaan negeri dan British bagi mengatasi kejatuhan harga getah itu.

Salah satu kesan yang nyata daripada kemelesetan ekonomi itu ialah kemiskinan yang berterusan kepada penduduk kampung (orang Melayu). Tanah-tanah pekebun-pekebun kecil Melayu tergadai ke tangan ceti-ceti, akibat daripada kegagalan mereka membayar hutang piutang kerana kurangnya punca pendapatan akibat kejatuhan harga getah. Mereka juga kehilangan tanah kerana gagal membayar cukai-cukai tanah akibat daripada kemelesetan ekonomi. Ramai juga yang terpaksa menjual tanah-tanah mereka, termasuk tapak rumah kerana kesusahan hidup.

''Di manapun di dalam Semenanjung ini telah terdengar berita-berita kesusahan orang-orang kampung - di Kota Tinggi hal ini diberitahu dengan surat layang. Menurut Undang-Undang Tanah Johor 1910, Bab 7, seorang pemungut hasil negeri boleh mengeluarkan surat perintah merampas sebarang harta yang dipunyai oleh sebarang pemiutang dan boleh menjualnya secara lelong sahaja.

Banyak juga orang kampung yang mempunyai jalor dan sampan boleh pergi ke laut, tetapi selain dari itu apa yang boleh mereka buat? Pegawai-pegawai kerajaan itu tiap-tiap bulan tetap menerima gaji daripada hasil kerajaan yang dipungut daripada orang kampung supaya membayar cukainya. Tidakkah pegawai-pegawai kerajaan itu kebulur pula? Ternyata permasalahan mereka cukup berat. Seperti juga hari ini, golongan yang berpendapatan kecil merasakan pukulan yang amat hebat dengan kejatuhan nilai ringgit.

Mereka terpaksa membayar harga makanan dan keperluan hidup hampir berkali ganda kerana kenaikan barang yang tidak dapat dikawal dengan berkesan. Ramai juga yang kehilangan pekerjaan terutama di sektor swasta kerana dasar menjimatkan kos oleh kilang-kilang terutama yang menjalankan perniagaan berteraskan barangan import atau bergantung kepada barang import untuk pengeluaran kilang.

Seperti juga pada tahun 1930-an, mereka yang makan gaji, kurang merasa tekanan itu, walaupun ada potongan gaji dan elaun dibuat, mereka masih mendapat gaji untuk menampung kehidupan dengan selesa kerana berpendapatan tetap.

Memang berbagai langkah dibuat oleh kerajaan Malaysia untuk mengatasi kemelut ekonomi negara. Perbelanjaan kerajaan untuk pengurusan dan pentadbiran dikurangkan, peruntukan badan-badan kerajaan juga dipotong, rakyat diseru berjimat cermat dan kurangkan perbelanjaan tidak perlu dan mewah seperti melancong keluar negeri dan sebagainya. Sokongan rakyat sentiasa diminta bagi melaksanakan langkah-langkah tersebut. Sokongan rakyat kepada pucuk pimpinan dan negara menjadi begitu penting seperti dalam setiap kali pilihan raya diadakan.

Berbanding dengan 1930-1931, orang kampung dan pekebun kecil tidaklah diminta sokongannya. Malah, mereka terbiar dan terkapai-kapai mencari hala hidup sendiri. Nasib mereka tidak dilindungi atau dibela secara bersungguh-sungguh oleh mana-mana pihak. Ini tidak menghairankan kerana kita diperintah oleh penjajah British. Oleh itu menjadi tanggungjawab reformis Melayu (wartawan, guru-guru dan penulis-penulis bebas) membangkitkan hal ini.

Satu gesaan untuk membuat undang-undang bagi mengelakkan keadaan ini dibuat oleh akhbar ini. Sultan Perak dikatakan telah memerintahkan penghulu-penghulu supaya menyenaraikan tanah-tanah yang tergadai untuk diambil tindakan. Hal yang sama juga cuba dibuat di Negeri Sembilan. Di Johor pula, walaupun ada aduan-aduan dan permintaan untuk menyelamatkan tanah-tanah pekebun kecil, tetapi tidak dihiraukan, mereka kehilangan tanah dan terpaksa makan gaji dengan ceti di atas tanah mereka sendiri. Warta Malaya menyeru supaya 'Raja-Raja Melayu dapat menjalankan ikhtiar yang halus bagi menyelamatkan orang Melayu yang sangat setia kepada mereka ' (Warta Malaya, 15 Mac 1930).

Namun, orang kampung terus kehilangan tanah dan hidup dalam kemiskinan. Pekebun-pekebun kecil tertekan lagi apabila diadakan sekatan keluaran getah. Mereka tidak dibenarkan mengeluarkan getah kelas rendah; yang hanya dieksport ialah getah kelas satu; yang dimaksudkan kelas satu ialah getah yang tidak berabuk, kering dan disalai dengan baik. Ini tidak mampu dibuat oleh pekebun kecil yang kekurangan modal. Ini dibantah oleh seorang pekebun kecil Cina dari Selangor yang melihat tindakan itu akan merumitkan mereka.

British juga membuat undang-undang supaya pekebun-pekebun kecil mengurangkan aktiviti menoreh getah kepada dua hari seminggu sahaja. Apabila keadaan semakin gawat, British telah mengharamkan pekebun-pekebun kecil daripada menoreh pada bulan Mei dan beberapa bulan seterusnya.

Ini bagi memberi peluang kepada ladang-ladang besar mengeluarkan hasil yang terbaik kerana penawaran getah Tanah Melayu telah melebihi permintaan. Ternyata, dalam sistem ekonomi bebas, mereka yang mempunyai modal terbesar sentiasa dapat mempengaruhi dasar kerajaan demi untuk menjaga kepentingan pelaburan dan perniagaan mereka. Kerajaan menyokong kumpulan ini demi untuk mendapatkan cukai bagi perbendaharaan penjajah. Pekebun kecil dan orang kampung terbiar tanpa perlindungan.

Cerita dan nasib masyarakat kampung pada tahun 1930-1931 sudah berlalu, namun, ia tetap relevan apabila melihat keperitan hidup yang semakin dirasakan oleh mereka yang berpendapatan kecil, dibuang kerja atau bergantung hidup kepada perniagaan di gerai-gerai. Mereka tidak dapat menggadaikan tanah kerana tidak ada tanah yang hendak digadai, dijual ataupun disewakan kerana kebanyakannya tinggal di rumah panjang, rumah setinggan, rumah pangsa atau di rumah sewa. Mereka juga tidak dapat balik bercucuk tanam di kampung kerana tanah sawah telah menjadi taman perumahan dan tanah pusaka telah menjadi terlalu kecil kerana dibahagi diantara waris. Profesion pertanian pula telah ditinggalkan terlalu lama kerana mengejar peluang pekerjaan yang banyak di kilang-kilang. Akar umbi ke kampungan mereka telah tercabut kerana pemodenan negara. Kemana harus mereka mengadu jika ekonomi negara tidak dapat dipulihkan?

Inilah dilema rakyat berpendapatan kecil, terutama dengan kenaikan harga barangan keperluan harian yang tidak dapat disekat oleh sesiapa pun. Para peniaga dan pedagang seperti biasa sentiasa dapat membuat keuntungan, walaupun sedikit. Rakyat jelata sama ada pada tahun 1930 atau pun 1998, tetap sama nasibnya. Mereka tetap terjerat kerana kemelesetan ekonomi negara.

(Utusan Malaysia, 14 Mac 1998)

21 November 2012

Stop Leaking Cash

Few of us know how to manage money. But financial planning is a necessity - and easier than you think.

Fundamental Financial Truths
Most of us just muddle along and learn how to manage our money as we go, befuddled by the plethora of options, decisions, and expertise that today's economic world encompasses Take heart. There really are a few fundamental financial truths that don't change over time. If you master them and keep informed of current trends, you can live well for less and save for a financially solvent future.

Calculate Your Net Worth
Let's start at the beginning: Before you do anything else, it's essential to figure out just how much you are worth. The easiest way to do it is to get a pad and pencil and make two lists -- one of your assets and one of your liabilities.

Your assets. Start by adding up the current value of everything that you own or have coming to you:
  • Cash: Total of your checking and savings accounts, financial investments
  • House: The market value of your home.
  • Other things of value: This includes jewelry, automobiles, home furnishings, art, vacation home, and such.
  • Insurance: Figure out the cash value of all your policies.
  • Investments: The current value of stocks and bonds, any rental properties, real estate partnerships, oil and gas partnerships, gold and silver, company stock options, personal collections (stamps, coins, antiques, and such), notes receivable, and the book value of a business.
  • Retirement savings: Pension and profit-sharing plans, any deferred compensation, and company savings plans (only count the money you could take if you left the company tomorrow).

Your liabilities. Now add up all your debts -- the amounts that you owe to others:
  • Mortgage: Be sure to include home equity loans.
  • Loans: Bank, car, and any other loans or notes.
  • Credit card balances or any other outstanding debts.

Your net worth. Once you have your two lists and have totaled them up, subtract your total liabilities from your total assets. The result is your net worth. Write that figure down. Memorise it. That's the number that will tell you when you can retire and how far along you are toward reaching your financial goals. Chances are your net worth is more than you think; however, if you find out that you are worth less than you think, let it serve as a wake-up call to revise your budget fast.

                Assets - Libabilities =  Net Worth

Get With the Budget
Every household should have a written budget. Some people have the feeling that if they balance their checkbook regularly, that should suffice. But focusing only on your checkbook is not a realistic, safe, or forward-thinking way to approach your financial well-being. It is also crucial to be honest about your budget, even when you overspend. Again all you need is a pad and pencil.

Total income. Add up all the money that you can expect to receive during the year, these include:
  • Regular paychecks and bonuses
  • Part-time or freelance income
  • Interest
  • Dividends
  • Other income
Fixed expenses. Next add up all the payments that you make a regular basis during the year, these include:
Mortgage payment or rent  
Electricity, gas, and water  
Telephone: Home and cell phone  
Internet service  
Garbage  
Alarm service  
Cable or satellite dish 
Insurance  
Debt payments  
Commuting expenses   

 
Variable expenses. Now add up all the payouts you make that vary more widely from month to month, these include:
Food and beverages  
Paper goods  
Car maintenance  
Home maintenance and improvement  
Furnishings and appliances  
Clothing  
Personal grooming  
Recreation  
Vacation
Gifts and contributions  
Health care not covered by insurance   

The moment of truth. Subtract all your annual expenditures from your total annual income. If the total expenditures are less than the total income, you are living within your income; if the expenditures are more than the income, you need to go through your variable flexible expenditures -- and some of your fixed expenditures as well -- and reduce your spending.

Total Annual Income -  Annual Expenditures = Cash Flow

Savings and Spending
When you are working out your budget, keep in mind that the recommended savings rate is 10 per cent of your take-home pay. If this isn't happening, you may be ill-prepared for retirement. Start by writing down everything you spend for about three months. This should give you a pretty good idea of how much you spend on food, gas, personal items, recreation, and all other variable expenditures. It's also a good idea to take out the past year of utility bills to get an idea of the seasonal rise and fall of expenditures there. Once you start seeing where your money is really going, you can look for ways to cut back and save more.

Think Small to Build Big
A lot of people only think in big terms for savings -- feeling that if they're not putting away $500 a month, then the effort is just not worth it. That kind of thinking is really destructive. If you're not used to putting away any money for savings, start small. Can you find $25 a month to go into a savings account? Most people can find that much just by cutting out a movie, a dinner out, or even a really lengthy long-distance phone call. If you can free up $25 per month to go to savings, you'll be $300 a year richer; if you can free up $25 a week for savings, you'll be $1,300 a year richer. Because the money you put aside will be earning interest, you'll be surprised at how fast even small amounts of savings will grow. Put it in perspective: If you save just $1 a day, by the end of the year you'll have $365. In an account with a four per cent interest rate, that would actually become $372 (you've made $7 by doing nothing). In ten years, you'll have saved $3,650 or, at the same interest rate, $4,487. As you can see, over time it all adds up.

Bonus Tip: Unexpected Income?
When you have a windfall -- bonus, gift, extra cash for extra work -- use the rule of thirds to determine how you'll use it
  • One-third for the past. Use one third to pay down a debt.
  • One-third for the present. Use a second third to make a home or personal improvement you want.
  • One-third for the future. Put the final third immediately into some sort of savings or investment.
If you follow this rule, you'll see your debt shrink, your savings grow, and you won't feel deprived.

Sneaky Savings
Another trick to help you save more (or pay down debt much faster) is to take an amount from a debt payment that has been paid off and continue paying it -- either into a savings account or into another debt. For example, let's say you have two car payments, one for $300 and one for $230. Once you pay off the lesser debt, just begin adding the $230 to the second debt and make new payments of $530. You'll be amazed how quickly you pay off the second debt (and save on the loan's interest as part of the bargain). Once that second debt is paid off, try tucking that payment into a money market savings account and watch your savings take off. Because you are already budgeting for the $530 to be unavailable to you each month, this strategy may be the most painless way to build up your savings.

19 November 2012

Facts About Dark Chocolate

Dark chocolate is a healthy treat loaded with anti-oxidants.

What you're eating

 
Dark chocolate is made from the roasted beans of the cacao tree, native to South America. Columbus ‘discovered’ these beans, and the returning crew of his fourth voyage took them to Europe. Originally cocoa was consumed as a beverage made by combining the ground beans with water. Chocolate was first seen in bar form in about 1910. It’s made mainly from cocoa solids and cocoa fat (aka cocoa butter) plus sugar. Milk chocolate also contains milk or milk powder. White chocolate (mostly sugar, milk powder and cocoa butter) lacks the cocoa solids that provide the health benefi ts of its darker cousins. Cocoa butter’s melting point is just below human body temperature - the reason chocolate melts so beautifully in your mouth.


Healing powers


Dark chocolate contains hefty amounts of disease-fighting flavonoids, anti-oxidants also found in red wine and lots of different fruit and vegetables. In fact, it appears to have more flavonoids than any other food. Studies find its anti-oxidants can significantly improve blood pressure, prevent blood clots, slow the oxidation of LDL cholesterol (making it less likely to stick to artery walls) and reduce inflammation. Some research suggests that eating a few squares a day can cut heart attack risk by 10 per cent. Eating dark chocolate can also lower insulin resistance, the main problem behind diabetes.


Healthy hint


For the most anti-oxidants, look for dark chocolate that contains at least 60 per cent cocoa.

How much is enough:  About one or two squares is considered one serving. You can have one to two serves every day unless you’re trying to lose weight.
 
Buying right: Buy from a shop with good turnover and look for clean, neat packaging – a sign the chocolate is fresh. Store chocolate in foil and plastic wrap. Chocolate may develop a light coating or ‘bloom’, but this won’t affect fl avour or texture.

17 November 2012

How to beat jet lag

Here's seven tips to help you minimise and bounce back from jet lag :

■ Eat carbohydrates before bed when you arrive. Food such as pasta helps you to sleep.

■ Don’t drink alcohol on the flight and avoid caffeine, too. But drink lots of water while you’re airborne.

■ If you’re flying while it’s night-time at your destination, do all you can to sleep. Use an eye shade and earplugs, and turn the cold air to high: a cooler temperature tells your body it’s night.

■ When it’s daylight where you’re going, try to stay awake – in sunlight if you can.

■ Eat eggs for breakfast. The protein will help you through that first day in a new time zone.

■ Switch to local time as soon as you can if you’re staying more than a day or two. Stay up till local bedtime, and don’t take an afternoon nap.

■ Get some exercise: a swim, or jog in the hotel gym, will encourage natural sleep

15 November 2012

How to save someone from drowning

Don’t try to leap into the water and rescue someone unless you’re a trained lifesaver. You could easily become a casualty yourself.


Rescue from water

■ Shout for help.
■ Call the emergency services or, ideally, get someone else to do it so you don’t take your eyes off the casualty.
■ If there’s a buoyancy aid – a lifebelt or any other object that floats, such as a ball – throw it in. Look around for a lifebuoy on a line as your first choice, or tie a lifevest to a rope.
■ If there’s no lifesaving equipment nearby, throw something as a lifeline, such as a tow rope, or reach out with a pole, oar, fishing rod or tree branch.
■ Don’t go into the water unless you’re trained in rescue. If you have to wade out, stay within your depth and ask someone onshore to hold a rope tied round your waist. Take a buoyancy aid for the casualty to hold onto.
 
Treat the casualty
 
Pull the casualty to safety and out of the water. Remove any mud or weed from their nose and throat and perform CPR if needed.
■ If vomiting or regurgitation occurs after you begin CPR, roll the casualty onto their side to clear the airway.
■ Treat for hypothermia.
■ Keep trying to revive the casualty until professional help arrives.

10 November 2012

12 Money Tips

Keep your bank balance healthy with these simple tips :

1. Never lose control over your assets as long as you live. Think thrice before you give a power of attorney, or write property away even to your nearest and dearest. Relationships can change over time, so it’s wiser to will it instead.

2. Write a will anyway. It’s not unlucky. Most people postpone writing one, or never do so.

3. Not all banks are “as safe as a bank.” Your money is safest in the public sector banks. Each year you hear of a cooperative bank or two going down.

4. Keep track of your credit card statements and bank accounts. Don’t go by bank statements alone: verify each transaction yourself against bills and your own books or computer entries.

5. You no longer have to buy gold to invest in gold. Buy into a gold exchange traded fund (ETF) instead. This way you can’t be robbed of the gold, you don’t have to worry about storing it, and there’s no wealth tax or long-term capital gains tax.

6. Don’t fall for very high interest rates when you take a fixed deposit. If somebody offers you incredibly high rates, it’s only because others don’t trust them enough to lend them money. The higher the interest rate, the greater will be your chance of losing all your money.

7. Buying shares online is usually cheaper and faster than buying from a broker. And you get to have more control.

8. Read up about tax deductions. Many, like expenses on treatment of disabled parents, special tax concessions for senior citizens, or donations to certain charities, are often overlooked.

9. Debit cards that don’t require a PIN for shopping are not as secure as those that require a PIN. Anybody who finds it may use it at a shop.

10. Make a note of whether your credit card offers accident and disability insurance. Reports say that there are fewer claims on such insurance, because many cardholders are not aware of it.

11. A zero-interest loan is never what it claims. 

12. If you own shares that pay dividends, a good growth strategy is to reinvest all the dividends back into more shares. If it’s mutual funds, choose a dividend reinvestment plan.