Midnight update: Karthi and Nathan were released after 9pm soon after MP Wong Hon Wai turned up at the Patani Road Police Station and spoke to police. Meanwhile, a Muslim group is helping the evicted families. So all is well for now. The state government should now come up with sound, more inclusive policies to protect the housing needs of the lower-income group, including foreigners.
7pm update: Karthi and Nathan are still being held at the Timur Laut Police Station. Activists have been trying to contact the police to seek their release. Bukit Mertajam MP Steven Sim says he will contact the local MP Wong Hon Wai to assist in securing their release.
All this drama is totally unnecessary and is just a reflection of the low-income housing situation here.
Noon update: A Parti Sosialis Malaysia activist, Karthiges Rajamanickam, and a friend of the residents, Nathan Munusamy, have been arrested for allegedly “menghalang penjawat awam menjalani tugas”. They are now at the Air Itam Police Station. A string of families have been evicted from their homes and their premises locked.
It is so disappointing to see this sort of thing happening in the new Malaysia – especially in, of all places, Penang, which has been under Pakatan rule for a decade now. I know new Attorney General Tommy Thomas has not yet started work but I hope he can come up with proposals to reform our laws to protect the interests of the bottom 40% of the population especially in cases like this.
The original post:
While we celebrate the appointment of Tommy Thomas as the new attorney general, a situation is brewing in Rifle Range in Penang.
From what I hear, 15 low-income households, many of them low-income young workers, could be evicted from their low-cost flats in Blocks D, E and J. Half a dozen Light Strike personnel and half a dozen uniformed police personnel have been deployed.
The state claims that the households have violated some ‘syarat’ (including marrying a foreigner – seriously?), which could be outdated given the present socio-economic context.
But the fact remains these are low-income households with probably nowhere else to go. From what I hear, those with arrears have been repaying them. Invariably, if experience is any guide, some hacks will try and demonise the victims ie those who have lost their homes. But let’s look at the real issue.
Apparently, the income threshold to qualify for these flats is below RM750. But the poverty line index is now RM950 and the minimum wage is RM1,000. Pakatan has pledged to increase the minimum wage to RM1,500. But in the meantime, where are those who are earning RM750-RM2,000 to find housing, especially if they have families to feed? There are so many in this position due to, for instance, low education levels and a lack of jobs that pay a living wage.
This is happening at a time when Penang has seen the property overhang double in one year – most of these are condominiums priced at over RM500,000. See the mismatch we have allowed to develop? Isn’t the real problem a serious lack of low-income housing (while we are pandering to high-end property development) and the past let-down in our education system?
An activist helping these households says some of the affected households have been trying to fix an appointment with the Penang state government since the end of last year – to no avail. Last Friday, some of them turned up at Komtar to see if they could talk to someone responsible but they were still unable to meet anyone. They were told they would be given an appointment… and then this happens.
This is not the way to usher in a new Malaysia. So halt the evictions and sit at the table and discuss. Find a solution to resolve the problem. Evictions are not the answer. They are a blot on our collective social conscience.
Finally some thoughts from Dr Syed Husin Ali:
I hope the government will be pro-people in its economic and social policies, especially the disadvantaged and those who are at the lower rung of societies, of all ethnic groups.
There is also always the danger that you might slide back to old ways. There are people who have baggage in the present government but they have shown transformation.
There is a danger that as they gain power, then power corrupts. We don’t want a return to corruption and oppression and a government that just panders to big business.