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Could there not be a more creative way to assist needy and poor senior citizens in a substantive manner instead of merely doling out RM100 to every senior citizen, asks Andrew Aeria.


The Penang DAP/PR government plans to distribute RM100 to senior citizens in the state. Hence, of late, they have been registering as many senior citizens as possible to receive the said payment “as part of the state’s Senior Citizens Appreciation Programme to assist and appreciate the elderly”.

CM Lim Guan Eng reportedly said that “62,000 of the 132,000 senior citizens in the state had registered for the programme through the service centres of state assemblypersons” and that “participation is subject to eligibility”.

Well, as far as I know, of the thousands of senior citizens who have already registered for the payment, not even one has been subjected to any means test to gauge their “eligibility”. Indeed, all that was required of the senior citizens was to merely fill in their names, ICs and contact details in a simple form. Neither is there presently any publicly available information that lists the qualifying criteria which will ensure “participation on the basis of eligibility”. And does this scheme include senior citizens who choose to register via their BN state assemblymen?

Perhaps I am mistaken and if so, I certainly hope to stand corrected by the DAP/PR government.

Still, and giving the DAP/PR government the benefit of my doubt, I think the reform-minded Penang government has to be extremely careful when it comes to such welfare payments. This is because this RM100 looks very much like it’s a political handout. And there is much danger if DAP/PR policies ape the BN’s politics of patronage in its quest to maintain short-term electoral support.

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Instead, could there not be a more creative way to assist needy and poor senior citizens in a substantive manner instead of merely doling out RM100 to every senior citizen? After all, while some senior citizens may need assistance, others certainly do not. And besides, what’s RM100 these days? Maybe it will help some old folks pay their assessment and quit rent bills for 2010. But after that, what?

So, instead of spending millions of precious public funds on monetary handouts, why not use these same millions to set up a telephone hotline and some kind of voluntary neighbourhood support system which old folks can access when they need to get their weekly groceries purchased, bills paid, errands done, medical prescriptions fulfilled and urgent transportation? Will not this money thus go further and for a genuine public purpose when coupled with a voluntary community assistance scheme instead of its current design where it is perceived as a political handout?

Is this Penang DAP/PR government so devoid of creative ideas in their administration that they have to rely on monetary handouts to govern?

Another similarly disturbing brain-dead project is that of the proposed RM50 million Penang International Convention Centre to be built by the MPPP. Pray tell, is this not a white elephant project? Why spend money on a white elephant when Penang has ample MICE facilities in its numerous hotels? Why not instead pump the RM50 million of Council money back into improving local government services and public utilities?

God knows Penang needs better drains, more hawker facilities, pedestrian footpaths, more trees, more green lung parks, dedicated bus lanes and more public toilets, more mobile libraries, among others.

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Is there no creative thinking in this Penang DAP/PR government that they can only think of a massively useless BN-style development like a Penang International Convention Centre in the middle of nowhere as one of their flagship projects?

Such white elephant projects only give the perception that certain big developers and their private interests currently have more influence over the Penang government’s policy outlook than ordinary citizens and their needs.

All political parties – and especially those in PR – need to take a long, hard look at themselves in the mirror if they want to legitimately talk of ‘reforms’ and if they want to continue to claim to be legitimate champions of ‘new politics’.

Andrew Aeria is an Aliran executive committee member

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