'Rakyat jaga rakyat' is not uplifting, but a sad necessity

NOVEMBER 18 — I bought a T-shirt yesterday.

It was from one of my favourite local artists, Fahmi Reza, who constantly amazes me with his prolific output that unfortunately gets him into trouble more often than not.



The problem with being a controversial figure is that it doesn't pay the bills thus Fahmi has started a Patreon. I was the fifth person to sign up and the first to buy the T-shirt that just went on sale — as part of the Patreon you get access to limited edition merchandise and honestly it's almost criminal that his Patreon subscribers only pay US$1 (RM4.12) a month.

That T-shirt is also inspiring my column this week as we reach the one-year anniversary of when China first declared the virus' existence in Wuhan.

One year has passed and in that time I've spent too much shopping online and passed almost all of my time in bed.

Yesterday I visited a cafe in the neighbourhood and along the way I spotted many shuttered stores, some that had been around longer than I have lived here.

I see my activist friends on Facebook talking about the cases that keep going, the neverending requests for food, diapers, milk and shelter.

If there is one thing Covid-19 proved is the libertarian ideal of a government being minimal and mostly hands-off, with charity being expected to take the place of welfare, is disastrous.

During the movement control order (MCO) it was both heartwarming and infuriating to see private citizens having to mobilise to help the needy and even after it ended, that is still going on.

I cannot understand why the projections from the finance minister are so rosy about the economy when the head of the SME association says SMEs are suffering.

I cannot fathom why supposed "experts" are saying our unemployment numbers are down, when having to sell food by the roadside because you got laid off is still counted as "employed."

It also makes me want to scream when entrepreneurship is again being touted by the government as the key to helping the poor. Perhaps in another time, another economy, another reality where we are not hiding in our homes from an invisible enemy.

The Budget proposed is still, objectively awful. Billions for vague "special projects" while throwing pennies in one-off handouts at the B40 is hardly helpful.

I have friends who would likely have to apply for the EPF i-Sinar withdrawal scheme and I worry for them because EPF has stated that if you are already on the i-Lestari scheme, you can't apply until that ends in April.

How, I wonder, are they going to get by on just RM500 until then?

"Why should you worry, Erna? You have plenty of food and some emergency funds."

Why shouldn't I worry? The people who are still getting by right now can't be expected to singlehandedly prop up the economy, and many soon might also lose their jobs if their employers shutter, like so many businesses have.

My greatest fear is that things will get to the point where it will become too difficult for Malaysians to help each other. We're already seeing heightened xenophobia about migrant workers, with them even being accused of being disease vectors — as if they asked to be given terrible, crowded lodgings.

I care a lot but perhaps what grates at me most is that the politicians are not doing a good job hiding that they don't care enough.

If they cared more, perhaps we wouldn't have had a forced election because a former chief minister tried to bully his way back to being head of the state.

We still have certain politicians declining to wear masks or socially distance, much like the GOP in the US — at the point Covid-19 is spreading in the White House, it's going to take people in hazmats to make it safe for habitation.

What I'd like now is a revised Budget and finance minister not giving what almost sounds like veiled threats of frontliners and civil servants not being paid.

I would also like a finance minister who knows that even if the Budget doesn't get passed, there are legal provisions in place that will ensure public servants, frontliners included, will get paid as usual. Unlike the US, we aren't going to get a Parliament shutdown that will withhold all salaries or essential expenses.

In the meantime, at least I'll have a new T-shirt to look forward to.

*This is the personal opinion of the columnist.

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