Under the Malaysian sun


There is enough wealth in the country for all, and those who disagree must be anti-poor.

THREE great stories were reported in our paper over the past 10 days, about how three people in need were assisted by those in power and ordinary folks who were touched by their struggle to survive day to day.

First, there was single mother Maureen Lee in Kuching who could not get a roof over her head. Her family was being torn apart because she deemed herself unable to look after her 14-year-old son as she could not get a council flat. She qualified for one, but they were all occupied, mostly by people far wealthier than her.

When our Sarawak team highlighted her case, South City mayor James Chan quickly acted and on April Fool’s Day, 42-year-old Maureen was given the key to her flat. Soon, she and her son will be reunited.

Maureen is a sales promoter who earns about RM600 a month but that is hardly enough. She has had to skip meals to ensure she could pay her rent and the RM100 fees to the Salvation Army Boys Home, where she had placed her boy.

She was too busy to look after him and he had started to mix with the wrong crowd. The two of them now have a chance to start afresh.

Then on Wednesday, there was the report about 16-year-old Kwong who lives alone in Tawau, in an inner-city village called Kampung Ais Box – notorious for crime and vice.

This gutsy girl had been living alone after her father died and had dropped out of school when she was 12 to eke out a living. If left alone any further, it would not be difficult to imagine how she could be lured into making many wrong decisions.

Reports about her plight came to the attention of former state minister Tan Sri Liew Yun Fah who stepped in. He offered to sponsor her for a beautician course and to help her financially until she is able to fend for herself.

And yesterday, we learnt of retired postal worker Abdul Wahad Ariffin, 66, and his 64-year-old wife Ainon Mohd Nor whose Kampung Pandan wooden house was falling apart, and how the 1MCA Founda­tion is helping to repair their home.

“I was shocked to see the house. The roof was leaking, the paint had worn off and the whole house was falling apart,” said Transport Minister and Pandan MP Datuk Seri Ong Tee Keat who had alerted the foundation to their plight.

Restoration work, to cost between RM20,000 and RM25,000, started on March 24 and is 95% completed.

The 1MCA Foundation was set up early this year to help those in need regardless of race and background.

The three cases have happy endings, and this is why newspapers love reporting such stories, to balance off all the sad and upsetting news that we tend to carry all the time.

Maureen, Kwong and Abdul Wahad have two things in common – they are poor and are in need of help, which the New Economic Model (NEM) that Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak has been touting about for the past two weeks also addresses.

Many of us think of the NEM as a plan that would make us all richer, and thus the programme for the poor is not very much on our mind and does not get much airplay.

However, close examination of the NEM report by the National Economic Advisory Council (NEAC), shows that the nine experts had given quite a lot of thought to fighting poverty, and had even found a political solution for Najib over the controversial affirmative action as practised under the New Economic Policy.

Under the NEM, poverty levels are raised to RM1,500, and in the city up to RM3,000. Maureen, Kwong and Abdul Wahad would thus be considered hardcore poor and would be given special treatment – something the old system failed to address.

Najib had repeatedly stressed in the past two weeks that fighting poverty would be the cornerstone of the new affirmative action, where by setting the standard at RM1,500 – more than 40% of the population will be entitled to special treatment.

“Our affirmative action doesn’t mean only helping the Malays – we want to help all those who need help, regardless whether they are Chinese, Indians, Malays, Kadazan, Dusun, Ibans or the Orang Asli. We want to help all Malaysians who are poor,” Najib said.

“We are out to ensure a place for every Malaysian under the Malaysian sun.”

He made this pledge in his speech at the annual gala dinner of the Foreign Correspondents Associa­­­­­tion of Singapore on Tuesday night. That was the first time he had talked about the NEM and the affirmative action in such detail overseas, and his candid comments left many seasoned journalists astounded, although still sceptical.

He also told them the new affirmative action would be based on four principles – being more market friendly, be based on needs and merit and being transparent – and he would go after rent-seekers who obtained contracts based on patronage as practised under the old system.

“I leave myself vulnerable by attacking these rent-seekers because I have changed the Umno constitution to allow practically anyone to challenge me. I can no longer hide behind quotas to stay in office,” he added.

“But I realised that for me to carry out the massive political and economic changes that the people want, I must first change Umno.”

Najib has tied himself so closely to the NEM that he can no longer move away from the announcements he had made. Other politicians should also make similar pledges so that we can hold them to those promises.

Of course, those opposed to Najib and his vision, within and outside his party, were quick to criticise him because if he succeeds in the NEM, then there is little chance to overthrow him.

One only needs to go to one’s e-mail account to notice a sudden increase in anti-Najib and anti-Barisan Nasional messages making the rounds. Most of the e-mails are old ones hurriedly rehashed to ensure there will be no buy-in (as Najib calls it) to the NEM.

They should stop trying to discredit the plan by making childish jibes but instead try to better the proposal.

The question that Malaysians need to throw back at Najib’s detractors is what is their commitment towards the NEM’s goals. What are their plans if it succeeds? We will find that their ideas will not be very different from those in Najib’s NEM.

Anyone who does not support the NEM must also be unwilling to help the likes of Maureen, Kwong or Abdul Wahad, and anyone not willing to help such people must be evil and undeserving of our support.

> Executive Editor Wong Sai Wan would like to remind businessmen and politicians that helping the poor does not need the presence of news cameras all the time.

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