Giving The Downtrodden A Head Start: Phee Boon Poh

Helping the poor is a burden that Environment, Health and Caring Society Welfare exco and Sungai Puyu state assemblyman (ADUN) Phee Boon Poh readily takes to. As a two-term ADUN who is tirelessly helping his constituents, Phee knows well the difficulties the poor have to face in their daily lives. He tells the Rocket why providing monetary aid is not the only solution for them.

“When Pakatan took over Penang, we had a desire to help the deserving and provide opportunities for the poor to rise up. There were too many poor people in the streets and kampongs needing help to just live to the next day. To this end, PR has embarked on several new welfare policies,” said Phee.

In 2008, the total number of monthly welfare aid recipients in Penang was 7462 people; under PR, as of 2010, we managed to identify and register up to 24529 people as eligible for the welfare aid.

Previously, the state welfare department was used as a political tool for BN; only those affiliated with BN were given welfare aid. Many poor people were misled into believing that applying for welfare aid was difficult. PR recognises that no one who is eligible, regardless of race, religion or creed, should be denied the aid. We undertook much effort to identify and investigate all those who are eligible for the aid.

Under the Partners Against Poverty or Rakan Anti Kemiskinan (RAK) program, which is designed to eradicate hardcore poor in the state, citizens who were living below the nutrition poverty income level (PIL) of RM 100 per person were given monthly welfare aid. As of July 2011, a total of 741 individuals were given more than RM 188,000 in monthly welfare aid.

As the state government’s financial performance improves, Phee said the Pakatan government would consider revising the PIL threshold so that more people can be assisted. Currently many poor people who are trapped in the PIL of RM 100 to RM 150 are not eligible to receive the welfare aid yet.

“Giving the poor monetary aid doesn’t solve their problem. We want them to be productive so that they can work instead of being preoccupied with looking for the next scrap of meal to sustain their lives. The state government also looks to provide job opportunities for them like having them make recyclable bags from discarded banners that are distributed free to the public or utilising public lands for them to grow crops,” he said.

Stewarding People’s Money

Phee offering aid to a retiree. Full story:

Initially when the Penang Pakatan government launched the Senior Citizen Appreciation Scheme (SCAS), many were sceptical on whether we can succeed in sustaining the schemes. In fact the government had to endure unfounded accusations by BN that the SCAS monetary source was haram (tainted) for the Muslims.

“However the people don’t buy these lies; after two years, more than 90 percent or 125,000 of Penang senior citizens have registered under the scheme. We hope this high rate of registration will extend to the Golden Child Scheme and Single Mother Contribution Program which have been launched this year,” said Phee.

PR does not discriminate against people based on their race or political affiliations in administering the welfare aid program. More than 85 percent of the RAK recipients are Malays. Around 41 percent of the RAK recipients reside in the Kepala Batas and Tasek Gelugor parliamentary areas, which formerly had two MPs as federal ministers.

“Some people have accused PR of bribing the people with this welfare money to buy their votes. The people are now aware that the government’s funds, federal or state, is their money. We are only stewards of their money. We are returning to them what is rightfully theirs,” said the state exco.

Green initiatives

The state government realised that to achieve a cleaner Penang, it will need the participation of the public. In May this year, the state government launched the “Cleaner, Greener Penang” initiative to clean up Penang.

Under the initiative, the public is co-opted to participate in the cleaning and greening efforts. Joint public and local council efforts such as coastal clean ups, throwing of effective mud balls and gotong-royongs have serve to pique the public’s interest in restoring the state’s cleanliness and environment.

The initiative is not limited to these efforts alone; in 2010, Penang organised 724 programs that included expos and forums on recycling, educational visits to factories, sales activities in collection centres, composting activities, “green school” forums and soap production from disposed edible oil.

Though Penang has been denied attendance to some of the federal government’s environmental activities, the latest being International Green Expos Malaysia (IGEM), Penang is now recognised internationally for its green initiatives and efforts.

Penang has been invited to many international environmental conferences organised by foreign countries and is a member of international environmental organisations such as Climate Alliance (Conference of Parties), Kyoto Protocol and Zero Waste Concept.

Due to some of the concerted efforts on reducing waste such as the “Everyday is a No Free Plastic Bag” policy, Penang has achieved a 23.8 percent waste recycling rate, which is ahead of the country’s targeted 20 percent recycling rate in 2020.

No Plastic bags, please

Penang was the first state to implement the “No Free Plastic Bag” policy in Malaysia. From July 2009 to October 2010, the state managed to reduce plastic bag usage by 32 million bags. There are currently (??) number of vendors participating in the initiative.

At the beginning there was some resistance from the plastic vendors and also sabotage efforts from BN.

“We were told that many people dislike the idea as it causes much inconvenience. However, we are voted in to do the right thing, not to be popular. Penang is a small state with little land; reduction of plastic usage will help in reducing rubbish disposal that will use up more landfills.

“In order to ensure the public buy-in to the policy, we used a four-pronged approach in implementing the policy: creating awareness, educating the public, administering warnings and enforcement action. The people are accepting it. In fact the federal government has taken tack to implement it nationwide. They even read our exco minutes to study on implementing the policy,” Phee said. -The Rocket


Penang’s Welfare – Some of The Numbers

  • Number of welfare recipients – in 2008, 7462 were registered as welfare recipients; in 2010, there are 24,529 registered welfare recipients in Penang
  • RAK – total number of recipients totalled 741 (July 2011), receiving RM 188,000 monthly; 61 percent of the welfare recipients resides in BN’s DUNs. 87.5 percent of the recipients are Malays.
  • Hardcore Poverty – for federal welfare, monthly household income of RM440 for a household; Penang defined RM 500 or RM 100 per person as hardcore poor
  • Senior Citizen Appreciation Scheme – as of June 2011, 92.6 percent of citizens above 60 years are registered under the scheme, which entitles them to receive RM 100 per person annually.
  • Money Well Spent – the state government spent a total of RM 10.47 million for the Senior Citizen Appreciation Scheme and bereavement grant for Penang’s senior citizens who passed away in 2010