The real game-changer would be a civil society movement that compels the opposition parties to discuss and formulate a joint position on several critical issues, says Jeyakumar Devaraj.
It is the duty of the government and relevant agencies to accommodate and see to the wellbeing of the homeless and the poor, says Barathi Selvam.
If a single person does not have food,
Then, we will destroy this world.
– Mahakavi Bharathiyar (translated)
Walk into the heart of Penang soon after the sun sets, and you’ll be greeted by numerous pubs, cafes, fast food outlets and high-rise buildings, along with hundreds of poor homeless souls, who are reduced to scavenging for food.
Despite the vibrant nightlife all around, the dark shades at the periphery are often ignored; whether by the authorities, the ruling class or most of the public.
It is quite comfortable for many to believe that fate plays a huge role in determining the ‘career’ path of the homeless, who are cruelly labelled by some as lazy social parasites, drug addicts, troublemakers, and possible criminals.
Is fate to be blamed for this dreadful phenomenon which has penetrated deep down in our daily lives?
A year ago, Tengku Adnan Tengku Mansor announced a ban on soup kitchens in a section of KL as they were supposedly tarnishing the city’s image. It triggered an uproar from Malaysians, especially netizens, who criticised and condemned the now infamous statement.
Various groups of volunteers commendably spend their time and their own resources to provide foods and toiletries to the homeless. They have been doing this for years.
But many fail to notice that providing meals occasionally will not solve the root cause of homelessness. Thinking beyond their daily needs is more important than anything else.
We have witnessed Ops Qaseh, initiated by Women, Family and Community Development Minister Rohani Abdul Karim, who wanted to turn KL into a city with‘zero’ vagrants and beggars.
The Destitute Persons Act 1977 was used to arrest any homeless people found on the streets and place them in welfare homes under the social welfare department. Those under the care of the department can only move out if they obtain a job that allows them to survive on their own.
But the implementation remains unclear because the numbers of homeless are rising. People sleep all over the city with cardboard as mattresses and garbage bags as pillows.
There are times where these homeless folk are chased away for a specific period, for instance, when there is an official event or visitor, thus obscuring the reality.
A survey by Food Not Bombs, an NGO who are well known for providing food to the homeless, found that poverty and social exclusion play a vital role in perpetuating homelessness.
Some 435,000 Malaysians are presently unemployed, competing with tens of thousands of immigrant workers who are brought in as part of a low-wage policy. There are now plans to import another 10,000 foreign workers into Malaysia – which could make the situation worse.
According to FNB, some of the homeless are actually working but their wages are not enough to rent a room or a house; so they have no choice but to live on the streets.
As the cost of living rises drastically, compounded by the goods and services tax, the state of the nation’s minimum wage is quite sickening and questionable. The minimum wage is RM900 for Peninsular Malaysia and RM800 for Sabah and Sarawak – below what is needed to live with dignity.
The income disparity between the rich and the poor is widening both in the private and the public sector, claim academics from Universiti Malaya who collaborated with Khazanah Research Institute in a paper on income disparity among Malaysians in 2014.
While the Canadians provide camps for the homeless as shelter during scorching or rainy days, Malaysian officials are much more sympathetic by letting them sleep anywhere as long as they are not disrupting anyone.
It is the duty of the government and relevant agencies to accommodate and see to the wellbeing of the homeless and the poor. What if, one day, a group of homeless people decide to occupy any office responsible for the wellbeing of the marginalised communities?
Some might think that the homeless can’t be that brilliant or courageous, but don’t be surprised to find many homeless who are keenly aware of politics; there are even some who talk about Gramsci.
It is not money or food they need most; what they need is change and fair and equal treatment.
Barathi Selvam, an undergraduate student majoring in journalism at a local university, is just a normal teenager enraged with the social injustices he sees around him. He hopes to use writing as a medium to advocate for anyone who is discriminated and oppressed and to empower the marginalised.
The crisis we are confronted with has nothing to do with race and religion. It is poor governance that is threatening our people and the entire nation, says W H Cheng.
Recently, many moderates have made their voices heard. After 25 prominent Malays came forward in their quest to curb the out-of-control racial and religious extremism, others boldly came forward to speak out against the rising tide of extremism in the country.
But the ruling Barisan Nasional (BN) coalition has not yet acknowledged the fact that moderation is the way forward if we want to see our nation progress. Umno in particular has refused to accept the reality of our multi-ethnic and multi-religious environment, in which the interaction among people of various ethnic groups and religions cannot be avoided.
If we have national unity, the interaction among the various ethnic groups and religions reflects the harmony among our communities.
Unfortunately, many Umno leaders have chosen to continue the same old stories, alleging that threat are coming from the ideas of liberalism, pluralism and secularism. They claim there have been attacks against the Malays, Islam, the Rulers, the Malay language and the outdated New Economic Policy (NEP).
Apart from that, these Umno leaders demand that more cash handouts and many kinds of economic assistance should be dished out – the same old demands they have been making every year.
But did all this so-called assistance raise the living standards and the economic standing of the vast majority of the Malays?
Can Umno leaders explain this: the poverty rate in our nation is still high until today; about 75 per cent of the bottom 40 per cent of Malaysian households that earn below RM1850 per month are Malays.
Despite billions of ringgit poured into bumiputera-based education institutions and resources, why is 65 per cent of the Malay workforce only with an SPM certificate? About RM54bn worth of bumiputera shares has been awarded to individuals and companies from 1984 to 2005; so how is it that today shares worth only RM2bn remain in their hands? Where did the large portion of these shares go?
Many Malaysians, including the majority Malays, are deeply worried over the state of the nation and the direction this nation is heading towards. One thing most Malaysians fear today is that Malaysia would end up like Iraq, Libya, Afghanistan and Pakistan if extremism is allowed to take its course.
What about Umno’s coalition partners in BN – the MCA, the MIC, Gerakan, PPP, the SUPP, the PBS, the PBRS, the LDP, Upko, the SPDP and the PRS? Why are all these non-Muslim BN component parties not speaking up and questioning Umno’s domination of governance and policymaking?
Are the BN component parties really equal partners within the coalition as claimed before? Or do these BN component parties serve as mere window dressing to give the ruling coalition a multi-ethnic complexion.
The racial and religious extremism has damaged our nation’s growth. The economy is deteriorating. The socio-economic standing of our people is imbalanced; inflation is running high, real household income has dropped, our people are getting poorer daily and the ringgit has been growing weaker.
The assurance and figures given by BN leaders are no longer convincing because they do not seem to connect with the actual market sentiment and the reality on the ground anymore.
Moreover, Putrajaya has not come up with concrete and effective measures to combat widespread corruption, abuse of power and mismanagement within the administration which has resulted in annual losses running into in billions of ringgit.
So, Umno, are all these also threats to the Malays and Islam?
These negative elements threaten all Malaysians regardless of race or religion and pulling our nation into bankruptcy.
These are the realities that Umno and the other BN component parties must accept – all Malaysians are moderates and our coffers are depleting. But those responsible have buried their heads in the sand despite many calling out for our nation to be rescued.
The crisis we are confronted with has nothing to do with race and religion. It is poor governance that is threatening our people and the entire nation.
And of course, since the BN is afraid of losing Putrajaya, denying reality and continue to playing the racial and religious cards seem to be the only options it has to stay in power.
W H Cheng, an Aliran member, is director of Inter-Research And Studies (IRAS), a Penang-based mini-research outfit and pressure group.