The pandemic has made it even more difficult for low-income people to make enough money to survive, Mustafa K Anuar writes.
Economically vulnerable Malaysians were seen making a beeline to pawnshops across the country soon after the movement control order was lifted conditionally on 4 May.
Some joined the long queues to pawn personal items of value, such as jewellery, for cash loans, while others turned up with the purpose of paying interest for items already pawned. A few came to redeem their items.
They are obviously cash-strapped. Some of them were shop assistants, factory workers, contract workers and daily-wage earners who have been robbed of their livelihoods and do not have money to feed their families.
In fact, many enquiries had already been made to the pawnbrokers by these people, way before the shops were opened for the first time since the movement control order was enforced, which suggests a fair degree of anxiety and desperation.
While these lenders of last resort are a useful financial lifeline for the poor and the desperate, they, however, often serve as a temporary relief for many customers, as this indicates that they live on borrowed money.
For some, the money received from pawning their valuables only means that another round of economic hardships has been postponed for a few weeks, if not a few days.
It is a grim reminder that all is not hunky-dory, particularly in the cities and other urban centres despite the economic strides that the country has made over many years. In fact, it begs the question how these people have not benefited much from the supposed prosperity enjoyed by the nation.
Indeed, quite often the glittering glass walls of malls, city lights and the sprawling concrete jungle can pose a dangerous façade that hides society’s underbelly.
Many who fall under in the category of the bottom 40% of households have been struggling to make ends meet even before the onslaught of the Covid-19 scourge. The pandemic has made it even more difficult for these people to make enough money to survive.
These are people, as epitomised by the fictional character Makcik Kiah, who deserve financial assistance from the government, such as the Bantuan Prihatin Nasional (National Caring Assistance).
Limited government resources notwithstanding, there is still a need to craft a long-term strategy to address their plight in a concerted manner post-pandemic.
It is here that we expect politicians, particularly those from the ruling Perikatan Nasional, to put their heads and resources together to think of ways and means to help alleviate the challenges faced by the poor, the desperate and the marginalised especially in the face of a deep economic recession.
This is apart from the government aiding industry players who have been adversely affected by the pandemic and the movement control order.
Taking the larger context into consideration, it does leave a bad taste in the mouth, though, when certain ruling politicians have instead made themselves busy recently by lining up for plum jobs and lucrative remuneration at government-linked companies and other government agencies.
The stark contrast between the two different queues is exasperating and painful to bear.
It is humiliating enough to be desperate and dispossessed. Flaunting your greed and callousness at the poor and the needy in their hour of need is killing.