KUALA LUMPUR, April 5 — In the Kerinchi people’s housing project (PPR) low-cost flats, Norayni who is in her 60s stands just inside her house — kept dark, with the only light streaming through her door frames.
Switching them off keeps the electricity bill low, and whatever little helps when income for the households is drying up as the country goes into an extended movement control order (MCO) at least until April 14.
“We don’t have an EPF (Employees’ Provident Fund) account nor a tax filing number. So, how are we supposed to get this aid from the government?
“Right now, we could do with some rice, flour, cooking oil and maybe some rice vermicelli packets just to sustain ourselves for a few days but I don’t know if there’ll be any aid forthcoming,” she told Malay Mail, initially reluctant to talk.
Last week, Putrajaya announced that Malaysians are now allowed to withdraw a maximum of RM500 monthly from their EPF accounts to buy essential goods amid the worsening Covid-19 pandemic.
It also announced under the Prihatin package the Bantuan Prihatin Nasional (BPN) cash handouts for low-income households, and those already receiving the Bantuan Sara Hidup (BSH) handout or a registered taxpayer would not need to make a new application.
Already struggling to get BSH payment due to paperwork complications, Norayni seems to have slipped through the cracks, far from the “Makcik Kiah” ideal promoted by Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin, whom he said can get up to RM7,864 worth of aid in the stimulus package.
With social distancing, application for the aid can be done with the Inland Revenue Board online. But this is no easier for Norayni.
“These days, we are seeing so many things on the internet. We aren’t that tech savvy nor understand things that are complicated like filling out government forms and so on,” she lamented.
“I don’t even know if I’ll get the money the government says they’ll be giving us because they didn’t say how it’ll be given out,” she said.
“My 20-year-old son’s the only earner in the family and he works at 99 Speedmart [convenient store] nearby. Previously he could earn a lot from overtime and extra shifts but lately, since the government ordered that businesses must close by 8pm, there’s very little money coming in,” she related.
Meanwhile, residents Muruga Marimuthu and his wife Sumathy Kaliappan have been separated from their two children for several weeks.
Met inside their home, the couple said the place felt empty without their two boys aged 13 and 10, who are now with their uncle in Puchong. The family is afraid of sending the boys back to the PPR amid a spike of cases there and in the Lembah Pantai district.
“I used to supplement our income by renting out audio systems but now there are no more events so that money has dried up,” said Muruga, who works as an office assistant at Kong Zi Institute in the University of Malaya.
His wife Sumathy used to do odd cleaning jobs, but since people are now afraid of close contact, those jobs have gone away as well.
“Since Lembah Pantai became a hotspot, no one’s going in or out much and by 8pm, we all have to stay inside,” said Sumathy.
“Since we’re at home without the kids, it’s pretty quiet here. We do, however, talk to them via video chat every day.”
MCO closing doors to businesses
Back during the so-called normal days, the PPR complex was a beehive of activity and never had a quiet minute.
Now, the only sight to greet the public are double-parked cars and motorcycles almost stacked on top of each other, as all food stalls are closed.
The very few residents seen walking around seemed to be carrying bags of groceries, or just stopped by the ground floor to pick up their food deliveries. It was mostly eerily quiet, even though almost everyone is indoors, at home.
Grocer Shaari Zakaria, who has lived there for 12 years, found it hard to stock his store with supplies as the police manning the roadblocks have been not only strict but very inconsistent and impractical.
Shaari was skinning potatoes when met by Malay Mail at his Block D store, and said he wakes up at 3.30am every day to stock up. He has had to travel to other wholesalers in Subang and Puchong to buy supplies.
Day in, day out, Shaari said the police have given him conflicting instruction. Once, he was ordered to go back “to where he came from”, even when his home is just within eyesight.
“At 3.30am, the police at one of the roadblocks will ask ‘Where you’re going?’ I tell them I’m on my way to get produce to sell at my store and they’ll allow me to pass.
“Then on the way back at another roadblock, the policeman will scold me for being out on the road and will not be satisfied with my documentation unless I have an electricity bill, water bill, store licence and proof of address,” related a frustrated Shaari.
“So, then I went to the police station to ask for documentation to let me travel for groceries and back and they tell me they’re not giving them out anymore. So, what’s the actual protocol here?”
While Shaari lauded the government’s move to extend the MCO, he said there needs to be better coordination within the various agencies who implement it.
“If this thing continues, I’m going to shut the store down next week. I can’t deal with the hassle,” added Shaari.
Residents come to each other’s aid
One silver lining comes in the form of good samaritans among the residents, among them one resident who wanted to be known as Datuk Gunasegaran and wife Amartham Ganesan, who have aided Norayni for some years.
“People are suffering as this pandemic has affected people globally but some of these fellows are politicising it,” said Gunasegaran, but did not elaborate further.
“There are people here worse off than us and we are really hoping and praying the government can get them the aid they need as soon as possible. Otherwise, they will have no money, so don’t waste time doing unnecessary things.”
Meanwhile, Amartham expressed her concern for her eldest son’s SPM examinations and what is going to happen regarding the education of her six children.
She said it is difficult for the kids to learn online and at home because if they do not understand their lessons, it’s not easy to get someone to explain it.
Nevertheless, the couple said the PPR is a good place to live as there is no racism there despite it being a poor neighbourhood and in this current time of crisis, may see flaring tempers get the better of a generally close-knit community.
“There’s no racism here. Everyone gets along,” said Gunasegaran.
“That’s why when we see Norayni having a hard time we will help her out. It’s not an issue at all,” said Amartham.
“We love doing it. We’ve been here for around 13 years. People here don’t care about race or religion.”
Under BPN, households earning RM4,000 or less will receive RM1,600, while households earning between RM4,001 to RM8,000 will receive RM1,000.
But the first half of payments will only be made at the end of April, and then in May, weeks after the extended MCO is set to end.