Hope for ex-offenders and Orang Asli in Budget 2019 — Wong Young Soon

NOVEMBER 8 — It is indeed heartening to see that in the first national budget of the Pakatan Harapan government, it has taken a bold step to help in the reintegration into society of ex-offenders via a tax incentive for companies to hire them.

We noted that the honourable Minister of Youth and Sports wore a yellow ribbon during the session, signalling his support for efforts to reintegrate this group of people.

For many prisoners who sincerely attempt to turn over a new leaf after they are released, one of the biggest hurdles is the stigma and suspicion that society continues to attach to them.

Many find it difficult to secure jobs or housing leaving them vulnerable to a life of crime again. Although hiring ex-offenders is not always a straightforward affair as they need guidance, coaching and support in order to succeed, our experience as a social work organisation working with them is that it is possible.

A case in point is Sam Kian Sang whose life story has been published in the media before and is an inspiration to many.

With this initiative from the government, we urge private sector businesses and institutions to open their doors to employing ex-offenders who have gone through a rehabilitative process.

Not only will this be economically beneficial for employers and ex-offenders with jobs but it can also help reduce crime by reducing recidivism while fostering a more caring society.

We also noted in this budget that the government has allocated RM100 million for Orang Asli development. This is slightly less than the amount allocated in the previous budget by the then government.

Orang Asli remain the poorest community in Malaysia with over a third living below the poverty line and plagued with disparities in health, education and access to basic amenities compared with the rest of the population.

We are not privy as to how the funds meant for the Orang Asli in the previous Budget was utilised but in the places where we work with the community, villages still lack basic things such as electricity and sealed roads.

Therefore, we urge the Pakatan Harapan government to make extra effort to ensure that the allocated funds in this budget is correctly utilised and independently monitored so that the Orang Asli are not left behind for another 60 years.

We are hopeful that the lives of the Orang Asli and the ex-offenders will significantly improve under the new government. In this regard, our organisation is happy to work with the government through our network with other NGOs, institutions and the private sector to help make these initiatives a success because we have reason to hope based on Pakatan Harapan's commitment to reform and its efforts thus far.

* Wong Young Soon is executive director of Malaysian CARE.

** This is the personal opinion of the writer or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of Malay Mail.