Malaysia Dateline

Much-needed aid for urban poor

LET the debate on Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin’s aid package continue. I’m putting aside the pros and cons of the prime minister’s package in their full economic and financial impact.

I leave that to the financial experts and economic analysts. We will certainly learn a lot from them. But the major concern of my neighbours living in the Projek Perumahan Rakyat (PPR) is — where to get the money to put food on the table.

In the past week, their prayers have been answered. Living in their cramped multi-storey flats, they followed closely the prime minister’s speech, which they seldom did in the past.

Whether it was Datuk Seri Najib Razak or Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad, most of the PPR residents wouldn’t be caught following the live speeches — either they were not interested or were out selling apam balik or driving their Grab cars.

Muhyiddin had a captive audience. And judging from the thumbs-up from many people on social media, his Prihatin Rakyat Economic Stimulus Package provides a much-needed boost to most people, especially the low-income group whose disposal income is very little.

Many of the flat-dwellers are salaried people, with total household income of not more than RM4,000 a month. That’s two persons’ wages — husband and wife. In my book, they are the urban poor; they are the ones in serious need of help. And Muhyiddin’s Prihatin package is just the boost the urban poor (and others) need.

One of the hottest debates is that the package is not all about the government’s money. A considerable portion of it comes from forced savings such as the Employees Provident Fund (EPF). Contributors are allowed to take RM500 a month from their Account Two for up to 12 months.

The salaried people know that it’s their money. Many will take up the offer. For most of them, this is better than borrowing from friends and relatives, who themselves are in urgent need of funds for their family upkeep. Use the withdrawal money wisely — that’s all we can tell them.

On Friday, Muhyiddin announced that RM1,600 will be allocated to those whose household income is less than RM4,000 a month; and RM1,000 per household whose income is between RM4,001 and RM8,000 a month.

Depending from which side you are looking at it, this can be big money or small money. But let’s be realistic. To the urban poor with no safety net, this is a big help — say what you want.

They will worry about their EPF money much later. Their concern is food on the table, TODAY. It’s all about survival. They know there will be payback time sooner or later.

It could be doubling their production when the situation returns to normal; or a vote for Muhyiddin in the next polls. Never underestimate the intelligence of the ordinary rakyat. And the MP for Pagoh is not a novice, mind you.

Some will argue that the government’s aid packages are not meant to be an investment in the vote bank for the next big polls. Yeah. But if Muhyiddin does not offer any help packages in these trying times, you can expect chaos in the streets.

No Movement Control Order can stop the people from taking matters into their own hands. We all know that troubles or problems come together with opportunities — it’s how well you react to them.

The government must act fast.

Those who are covered under the various aid packages want details of how soon some of these are to be operationalised. Reduce the bureaucratic red tape to ensure that the money will be in the hands of the deserving people as fast as possible.

Muhyiddin’s package is not meant to be an April Fool’s joke. His tagline is “no one will be left behind.” Deliver he must. Makcik Kiah from Desa Tasik near the old Sungei Besi town is waiting eagerly for her family’s package.

* The writer is a former NST group editor. His first column appeared on Aug 27, 1995, as ‘Kurang Manis’