JUST over a year ago, Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin presented the People’s Economic Stimulus Package (Prihatin), worth around RM250 bil to ease the rakyat’s burden.
To illustrate the aid which the average Malaysians would receive from the Government, he used a fictitious woman called “Makcik Kiah”, to illustrate the cash support and savings she would accrue over a six-month period.
In his speech in March last year, Muhyiddin calculated that Makcik Kiah and her family would receive RM8,664 of aid over a six-month period, or RM1,444 per month. He claimed that her total savings would be RM4,464.
He proudly boasted, “Even Makcik Kiah can smile a little, after listening to my calculations.”
Today, we ask, is Makcik Kiah still smiling?
To remind readers, Muhyiddin’s Makcik Kiah sells banana fritters (goreng pisang) and lives in a Government housing project. Her husband, a Government pensioner, earns extra income as a Grab driver.
Their daughter borrowed money from the Government’s National Higher Education Fund Corporation (PTPTN) for studies. Their unmarried son lives with them.
In reality, Makcik Kiah is livid. She does not have any savings, nor does she have the money to pay off any of her commitments, such as rent, car loan, electricity bill or her daughter’s student loan.
In the Prihatin package, these payments were suspended for six months. They were not waived. So, what will happen when she is forced to resume making the payments?
Makcik Kiah did not save RM4,464. Deferred payments cannot be called savings. She was misled.
During the lockdown, Makcik Kiah was unable to sell banana fritters. She could not earn any money and her husband, a Grab driver was in a similar position.
As she is unable to pay her bills, Makcik Kiah will end up deeper in debt. Petty traders like her, want to know if there is a stimulus package for small to medium sized enterprises (SMEs), the backbone of our nation’s economy.
Despite not being able to trade as normal, businesses still had to pay rent and service charges. Many were forced to close down and make their staff redundant. The owners and employees have loans and family commitments such as educational loans. What help is the Finance Ministry offering these people now?
Stateless, the poor suffer while Ministers eat lobsters
It is not just petty traders who are angry. Green Identity Card holders and stateless people are ineligible for aid from the state. One green IC holder said, “As far as the Government is concerned, we do not exist. So, how can we apply for aid?”
Many of these people are illegitimate children or children of parents who are illiterate. They were unaware that the birth of their children had to be registered.
Friends who run soup kitchens have admitted that more people are utilising their services, so that they can at least get one decent meal a day. One attendee who joined the soup kitchen said, “Last year, I had a decent job, but when the pandemic worsened, my boss closed shop and fired his staff.
“I have no money to buy food and I cannot forget the photo on social media, of Parliamentarians eating a meal of lobster, when outside the House, people are starving.
“Some friends get food parcels from non-governmental organisation (NGO) to feed their families. We are suffering.”
The Makcik Kiahs of Malaysia are appalled by the double standards practised by the ministers. One man said, “We have the largest Cabinet in the history of Malaysia but most are doing nothing (gaji buta) and do not deserve their exorbitant salaries. One month of their wages can ease the rakyat’s suffering”.
Ministers and civil servants have not been made redundant and receive special bonuses. Ordinary workers suffer pay cuts and despite the depressed business conditions, employers need money for their workers’ wages.
Another person said, “The ministers are free to travel overseas to seek foreign investors. We can’t even travel from one district to another, like from Kuala Lumpur to Petaling Jaya, to earn a living. How unfair is that?”
Double standards have angered the rakyat. Quarantine rules are relaxed for ministers. The standard operating procedure (SOP) for the pandemic is ignored by politicians and celebrities.
When they openly flout social distancing, they were fined, only after a public outcry.
Actress Noor Neelofa Mohd Noor was fined RM60,000, a drop in the ocean for her, whereas a burger seller, who was cleaning the premises after closing his stall, was told to pay a fine of RM50,000, a sum that he could ill afford.
Petty traders are also furious with the flip-flop about trading laws. After pressure from hawkers, the Government said that Ramadhan bazaars could open till 2am. The relaxation in lockdown rules after little consideration caused another spike in COVID-19 infections.
Food sellers were livid when the rules changed again and they were told they could not trade. Many demanded compensations for the food wasted. They said that the communication was both erratic and confusing.
Lack of information and late announcements of school reopenings have angered many parents and teachers. In addition, Malaysians were appalled by the slow vaccination roll-out.
Others were angry at the lack of a concerted plan to manage the pandemic. The bad example set by ministers made people increasingly reluctant to observe the rules. As the disease has not been taken seriously, infections and deaths have risen. Reports of refrigerated containers being used as temporary morgues have caused alarm.
Unemployment, children’s futures being uncertain and the more contagious variant of COVID-19 are all causing concerns.
Makcik Kiah is not smiling, but what is the Government doing to address her fears?
By : Mariam Mokhtar (A socio-political commentator) – FOCUS MALAYSIA
* This is the opinion of the writer or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of The Stringer.