If you haven’t, it is time you got acquainted with the man: Aneurin Bevan was the Minister of Health in post-war Britain who played a key role in setting up the National Health Service.

Aneurin Bevan
Aneurin Bevan - Photo courtesy of Wikipedia

It was Bevan who uttered these immortal words: “The collective principle asserts that… no society can legitimately call itself civilised if a sick person is denied medical aid because of lack of means.”

Which means health care is not a commodity but a basic right that should be made available and accessible to all. It also means we need a top-class public health care system with adequate funding. That was what the speakers at a Sembang-Sembang talk this afternoon, Dr Jeyakumar and Dr Jayabalan, stressed.

Many among the audience at the Caring Society Complex in Penang were moved when they heard a woman, Roszita, describing how she lost her husband, Ahmad Nazri, 49, a heart patient, because the couple were unable to raise RM19,000 in time to buy three stents that were needed to deal with blockages.

It’s not surprising that the government has decided to put off the Goods and Services Tax (GST) for now.

While the NGOs might claim preliminary victory (they had planned a protest for Monday, when Parliament resumes) and some might think that the government has listened to the people’s concern, I believe it was the Federation of Malaysian Manufacturer’s objection that probably saved the day.

Five days ago on Tuesday, the FMM’s task force on GST recommended that the tax be deferred until Malaysia was ready (when average income was higher and income disparity lower).

We shouldn’t be too thankful to the FMM though. They very “kindly” suggested that the government consider a Retail Sales Tax instead of a GST – while the corporations continue to enjoy ever-lower tax rates. Gee, thanks!

Back from a rejuvenating day at Penang Forum 2, where 170 concerned individuals, including representatives from 35 Penang-based NGOs, grappled with the question, ‘Has anything changed after two years?’

The participants passed two resolutions: they supported the Penang state government’s call for the reinstatement of local government elections and called on the Election Commission to act, pronto. In the interim period, they called for the quota for reps of public interest NGOs to be increased to five each in the Penang Municipal Council and the Seberang Perai Municipa Council.

The second resolution called for the Local Plan for Penang Island (completed/revised in 2009) to be made public so the public can give their views. Never mind if it is a bit dated by now. (The plan covers the period from 2005 to 2020.)

During the forum, participants were fascinated to learn the following:

If only all that oil money had not been frittered away and had instead been used to strengthen social safety nets, many families wouldn’t be struggling today.

In the course of writing the following piece for IPS, I found that a number of NGOs were working to plug the gaps in the existing social safety nets through which children and teenagers from disadvantaged families had fallen through. Unfortunately, these groups have suffered a sharp drop in donations and even volunteers.

When firms began slashing overtime and reducing the number of days worked because of the economic slowdown, households suffered. Many workers had previously taken out loans, whether from banks or moneylenders, on the strength of their overtime-boosted income, and were unable to service their loans; others found their homes being foreclosed.

If you are wondering how you can make the year-end extra meaningful, why not think of the Monfort Youth Centre in Malacca.

The students of the Monfort Youth Centre

Help the Centre give hope to the young: An artist’s impression of the proposed double-storey building – Images courtesy of Monfort Youth Centre

First of all, I want to say thank you for your support this year with this blog. Some of the discussions and debates we have had here have been priceless. We have witnessed many things together in the struggle for justice and freedom – sometimes “live” as news breaks. At other times, we have been aghast at the environmental and human price some of us have paid for unsustainable development. And if we start to talk about corruption, oppression and exploitation, we could be here all day…

The year end is also a time for us to reflect on our lives, our priorities and what our role is in the larger scheme of things. Jesus himself was born in poverty. He constantly identified with the poor and those whom society often shunned. He empowered them and gave them hope.

Friend of mine bought a tomato for RM1.20 at the Tanjung Bunga market.

Now you would think a RM1.20 tomato would have to be pretty special.

No, this was just a little tomato, not even big and juicy.

Unlike ordinary tomatoes that would rot in a few days if left in the open, this one could keep for a while. Makes you wonder.

If a tomato could cost RM1.20, imagine the prices of other fruit and vegetables. The question is, how are the lower-income group coping? As food prices soar, as real wages remain stagnant and as overtime pay is slashed, many among the working class are struggling to put food on the table for their families – while some of our leaders squander our nation’s resources and their spouses go on shopping sprees abroad.

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A Goods and Services Tax Bill has been tabled in Parliament today.

The GST is a tax on your consumption/expenditure – though it may be mitigated by tax credits and a range of exemptions on essential items.

Proponents say it will broaden the tax base and ensure that the rich too will pay taxes – especially on luxury items – instead of escaping due to loop-holes in the tax system.

Critics argue that it is a regressive tax that will widen income disparities and result in the poor paying taxes for the first time (whereas under the present income tax system, they are exempted). Unlike in the developed nations, the majority of Malaysians do not pay income tax because of their low income; thus, they cannot receive a tax credit to reimburse them for the GST they would incur on a basic level of expenditure. Critics say it would make more sense for the government to raise money by cracking down on corruption and plugging “leakages”.

Here’s your chance to make your voice heard. If they don’t listen to you, you know what to do at the next general election.

[poll id=”50″]

The federal government reimburses the Sarawak power supply corporation about RM1.4 million a month so that about 70,000 households in Sarawak can enjoy free power supply, reports the Borneo Post.

Sounds good?

Let’s take a closer look at Sarawak Energy Bhd, which is 65 per cent owned by the State Financial Secretary Sarawak (which falls under the finance minister, who is Chief Minister Taib Mahmud) and 4 per cent by EPF:

Financial year ended 31 Dec 2008
Turnover RM1.3 billion
Profit before tax RM293m (RM401m in 2007)
Directors’ fees, etc RM3.8m (RM2.3m in 2007)
Now, let’s compare that with Tenaga Nasional Bhd, which was 38 per cent owned by Khazanah and 14 per cent by the EPF: