Let the poor walk with dignity

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As Najib marks a hundred days in office as Prime Minister, the country is faced with political problems at a time of increasing economic difficulties, leaving the lower-income group most vulnerable. John Inbaraj writes an open plea to the PM, urging him to ensure that the poor can walk with dignity.

 

Mr Prime Minister:

You have come down to earth by walking the streets, flipping capatis, and riding the LRT. Those who come into contact with you during these visits are impressed with your humility; those who read about it look forward with hope for the simple things in life to improve throughout the country through your knowledge of the hardship of the people. These simple things, like efficient transport, play a significant role in the lives of low-income Malaysians.

There has been endless talk of upgrading the lives of the hardcore poor and those in the lower income group but most people do not understand the language spoken. They continue to struggle.

Low cost homes are built for these low-income people. They are reluctantly built. In fact, they would never be built if no pressure was applied by the government. Developers do this grudgingly, corners literally cut, common corridors added to the size of the flat unit effectively reducing the living area. The result?  Families living in flats measuring less than 500sq.ft.

Sometimes added packages are forced onto buyers. Some homes come without car-parks while others are forced to buy car parks. The walls and floors are crooked and uneven. The paint is of low quality and fades away in no time. With one look, the world is able to tell that the property is “low cost”.


At the mercy of banks

But wait…

Low- and low-medium cost flats are often dense and without facilities. As maximum blocks and units are crammed into the minimum land area as possible. The result: low cost flat owners are actually paying more per sq ft of space.

But more importantly, Mr. Prime Minister, after the government’s efforts in providing this inadequate space to low-income Malaysians, the government washes its hands and transfers responsibility of ownership to the buyer and the banker. Here is where low-income Malaysians are lumped together with middle-class and rich Malaysians with no preferential treatment.

Of what use are the government’s efforts to house the poor if these properties are subsequently seized and auctioned off by the banks? Just look at the extent of auctions of low-cost properties! Crooked acts are said to be rampant in the auction process. There seems to be a structure in this process, perhaps syndicate involvement? Sometimes reserve prices are ridiculously low. The owners are left hapless and through the mercenary attitude of banks, bank charges keep piling on and negotiation is not accepted. Poor owners are pushed to the wall. They are literally cornered into bankruptcy.

Mr. Prime Minister, your administration must come down to the ground. Stop the banking industry’s blatant arrogance and exploitation of the poor borrower. Help negotiate, through a government-sponsored intermediary, financial solutions for people facing difficulties through unfortunate circumstances – people who are genuine borrowers trying to cope with their miserable lives.

Banks have deviated from their original purpose. They charge sundry fees for almost anything. They block accounts at their whims and fancies. They may even manipulate standing order arrangements and ‘attack’ personal accounts. Bank officers have forgotten that they are handling the peoples’ money. The struggling debtor receives a monthly notice from the bank’s lawyer for which he is charged  RM50-RM75 besides continuous harassment from the officer-in-charge.

Help us, Mr Prime Minister. The poor too have a right to a place under the Malaysian sun. They must be treated with dignity and honour! These people have contributed and continue to contribute greatly to the Malaysian economy. It would be a terribly failure on your part not to address your attention to our plight. The ruling government’s greatest victory would be to come down and deal with the real issues of the day that affect the poor on a daily basis. Continue to walk the streets. Visit low- and low-medium cost flats and see for yourself the atrocious conditions the people live in. They are the breeding ground for unhealthy activities which are responsible for helpless people to go astreay.


Victims of blacklisting

And while we are still with economic issues, please use all your might to kill CTOS (Credit Tip-Off Service). I dare say that CTOS has single-handedly condemned the Malaysian economy to mediocrity.

All over the world people go through the grind before they succeed. Some of the world’s top millionaires went through bankruptcy first. In Malaysia too there is evidence of this. The smallest organisation can send your name to CTOS for default. Imagine being denied a housing or car loan simply because somewhere along the way someone had informed CTOS of some default on a hire purchase.

Why does the government allow banks to breach, directly or indirectly, the confidentially code between the bank and the client? They freely and unlawfully exchange information with CTOS.

Companies have taken the easy way out by blacklisting borrowers in CTOS instead of using the laws available to re-coup loans. Imagine the millions that would go into reviving the economy by ‘killing’ CTOS.

In the current situation with people being retrenched many more names will find their way into CTOS. Someday when things recover and these people go back to work what will happen? They will be unable to secure a loan to repay these debts because CTOS has condemned them and it is these very loans that they want to close!

Your call for “1Malaysia, People First, Performance Now” could not have come at a better time. Most Malaysians on the ground are little bothered with Vision 2020. They are not affected by impressive facts and figures. They want a simple, safe and peaceful country to live in – a country that you should rule with fairness and justice.

The poor must be able to walk with dignity.

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