Cheers and frustration


FOR the poorly informed and illiterate citizens, especially those in the rural areas, to claim the one-off gift of cash under the BR1M scheme is a costly exercise indeed. It includes money and time for travelling to and from the district centres; and it causes stress, anger and frustrations when finding out that their applications were rejected.

WAITING THEIR TURN: A huge crowd waits for BR1M vouchers at the Bintulu Civic Centre.

Happy are those who have received the manna; those going home empty-handed may have spent more than RM500 in the process of claiming that ‘donation’.


There must be stored somewhere basic data including household income of each Malaysian family, retrievable at a moment’s notice at every district office in the state – I’d recommend asking the IRB for their hit list, and then compare it with National Registration. Subtract one from the other, this should result in a list of people too poor to pay tax (well, so we hope). From the various five-year Malaysia Plans, there must be heaps of information on household income.

As early as 1970, it was already known to the federal government planners that the sum of RM179 was the average monthly income of a Malay household; for an Indian it was RM310 and a Chinese family, RM387. I get these figures from the Mid-Term Review of the Second Malaysia Plan 1971-1975. What the latest position is, I have been unable to ascertain. According to the Mid-Term Review of the Seventh Malaysia Plan, 1996-2000, the average monthly household income in Sarawak in 1997 was RM2,242.

During the National Census, information on household income is regularly collected. And wasn’t there a household income survey as such in 1987? Sources from such exercises should yield enough material to work on to produce a list of all Malaysian households in Sarawak. Those households earning less than RM3,000 per month would come under the BR1M exercise.

If there were available a complete database relating to every Malaysian household income, the present method of distributing the cash payouts under the BR1M scheme would have been less problematic.

Poorly prepared

Anybody who knows about the geography of this state would have foreseen the problems to be encountered in carrying out the programme. Did we have ready lists of households earning less than RM3,000 per month kept at every district office? In many cases, the lists of eligible households are probably based on guesswork.

Almost every district office has maintained its own profile – data of ongoing projects and those completed. Also available is information on the exact number of villages, longhouses and bazaars. However, the details of each household, let alone the combined monthly income of that household, may not be easily accessible to the general public. For the purpose of the BR1M project, the lists of eligible households should have been made available to Lembaga Hasil Dalam Negeri before the Jan 10 deadline.

Particulars on each family in a village or a longhouse, for instance, can be collected and compiled by officers from the various departments during their regular visits to the houses of the residents there. For instance, the Health Department and Welfare Department each keep certain information of people relevant to their work – the Health Department from their patients, the Welfare Department from their list of aid recipients. I don’t know if the local authorities can be of some help for sources of information of families earning less than RM3,000 per month. They certainly keep lists of those who have not paid rates.

Service of community leaders and NGOs

The community leaders from each village or longhouse or bazaar should have been briefed on how to coach their people to fill in the application forms, where and when to submit them, who to verify eligibility of recipients and so on. Members of the NGOs should have been taken on board to help in the exercise on a voluntary basis. Regular announcements should have been made through the media telling people to wait for further notices before they could go to town in order to collect the cash in a rush.

The time limit might have something to do with the rush. Not fully understanding the method of distributing the aid may have been another. Those who feel they are entitled may just as well go to town to see if their names would be on the lists of recipients. Can’t really blame them because the exercise involves giving money, the motive of the giver is another thing.

Relax the requirement of time of final submission of filled in application forms. That Jan 10 deadline was so short. Before announcing the date set for collecting the application forms, the general public had no inkling as to whether or not the state authorities had been fully consulted as to the modus operandi in distributing the forms and submitting them afterwards.

They would have made adequate preparations. The local officials know better the problems of logistics and the whereabouts of Malaysians in the interior, for example those Sarawakians without the MyKad. Obviously, those without MyKad are not eligible under the scheme, though they may be Sarawakians, born of citizens but somehow or other are not regarded as Malaysians by the current law.

Socioeconomic surveys

Another source of information would be data collected in a socioeconomic survey carried out in every district. If not already done, it would be worth the effort and expense to carry out the surveys in all districts.

The local universities are full of clever people who can undertake these surveys; even some NGOs can conduct such surveys. The one-off payment has created a precedent and already there are people who expect the second edition of BR1M. So by then the lists of households earning less than RM3,000 per month would be handy.

Whether or not BR1M 2.0 will materialise, the data collected will be useful for other purposes – the Welfare Department needs them for the e-Kasih programme and the economic planners require them for poverty eradication programmes.

Politicised scheme?

Politicians from the ruling coalition are at pains to rebut the accusation that the BR1M is a political instrument with which to influence voters. The use of names of voters in the electoral rolls to identify eligible households lends credence to the perception of a politicised scheme. And in politics perception matters. As it is about time for elections and money politics has been the norm in our political system, it would be hard to rebut the allegation. It would be too glaring to give out money to the electors during the campaign period, so another period before elections will do the same trick.

To claim credit

It is obvious that the politicians in power want to be associated with BR1M; the opportunity for one to appear being generous is not to be missed. Wait, anybody who misses BR1M will have a long memory. It may be RM500, but the memory of not being recognised as being eligible to it will last for the next five years, at least.

By now we have learnt a
couple of lessons: how not to dish money around the time of elections and how important it is to prepare the lists of eligible recipients well before announcing the schedules to collect the payments.