Pearl Lee

Pearl Lee is roving news editor of The Malay Mail. She can be reached at pearl@mmail.com.my or on Twitter @pearllee22.

JULY 7 — Date: March 11, 2010

Time: 10am

Venue: Dataran Dewan Bandaraya Kuala Lumpur, Jalan Raja Laut

Event: Handing over of a van to Pertiwi Soup Kitchen

Guest of honour: Federal Territories Minister Datuk Raja Nong Chik Raja Zainal Abidin

The above programme is not a fictitious one.

Many notable personalities including City Hall’s then director-general Datuk Salleh Yusup, Islamic Women’s Action Organisation (Pertiwi) president Professor Emeritus Datuk Dr Nik Safiah Karim, Rotary Club of Kuala Lumpur DiRaja president Datuk Rizal Sardon, Rotary International District 3300 district governor Leslie Salehuddin, Tan Chong Motor Holding Berhad senior GM (public affairs) Datuk Nadzam Mohd Din and a large group of volunteers from Pertiwi were among those who were present.

Pertiwi, eager to kick-start its Soup Kitchen programme, approached the Rotary Club of Kuala Lumpur DiRaja in 2009.  Rizal and his team worked hard to acquire a vehicle to enable the NGO to begin feeding the homeless and the needy, especially in Chow Kit and Masjid India.

A year later, a mock key of a Nissan Vanette, contributed by the Rotary Club, was handed over to Nik Safiah by Raja Nong Chik during the event. The vehicle was to store and deliver food packages to the poor and hungry in the city.

Raja Nong Chik launches the Pertiwi Soup Kitchen van at City Hall’s headquarters in Jalan Raja Laut in 2010. — file pictureRaja Nong Chik launches the Pertiwi Soup Kitchen van at City Hall’s headquarters in Jalan Raja Laut in 2010. — file pictureThe soup kitchen programme also started that morning as food packets were distributed to the poor who attended the event as well as hungry reporters, including yours truly.

If my memory serves me correctly, even the minister and his wife Datin Nafeesah left the event with a doggie bag in hand.

Nik Safiah, had then said the NGO would work with City Hall to identify other urban poor areas which could benefit from the programme.

Fast forward 2014. It is indeed mind-boggling that the same authority who endorsed a soup kitchen initiative has now proclaimed otherwise. This is even made worse with a 2km radius ban from Lot 10 to those wanting to offer such aid.

Present minister Datuk Seri Tengku Adnan Tengku Mansor said such activities encouraged people to remain homeless and jobless. It also resulted in littering and disease-carrying scavengers, he said.

It smacks of sheer hypocrisy as the same ministry which launched the programme now wants soup kitchens to stay out “glitzy” Bukit Bintang and its surrounding areas.

If Tengku Adnan actually visited Bukit Bintang, especially at night, he would see many “traders” who lay cloths on the sidewalks and harass tourists to buy fake watches and other items. This is especially evident opposite Fahrenheit 88 (formerly known as KL Plaza).

One would also notice many foreigners, with babies on their laps, begging for money. Some even use their children to sell flowers or carry a laminated paper claiming to collect donations for a religious institution.

Head towards Federal Hotel and you have a row of women, mostly foreigners, offering massage services and many men, when walking alone, claim they have been approached by pimps offering girls for cash.

Aren’t all these an eyesore?

Following criticisms over his blanket ruling, which was supposed to come into force today, Tengku Adnan clarified his statement saying he would work with City Hall to identify suitable locations to set up one-stop centres that would provide facilities, including food, to the homeless.

It is baffling as to why the ministry would want to spend additional taxpayers’ money on an initiative that is already funded by private entities. The authorities should instead facilitate, and not frustrate, the noble work of soup kitchens in the city.

Not all of those who line up for free meals are beggars. Some have jobs, but remain cash-strapped while there have also been instances where locals and tourists join the lines to get a different taste of life.

If the ministry is eager to clear the city of “rubbish”, start by actually cleaning our rivers and drains. Clogged drains causing stagnant water in many areas have contributed to the recent spike of dengue cases nationwide. KL and Putrajaya have recorded 3,628 dengue cases and seven deaths since January 1.

It is only right for ministers to understand the situation before making rash statements, only to claim he or she was misconstrued or to conveniently blame the media upon suffering a backlash.

Policy makers would only understand the true problems faced by the people if they actually “turun padang” and get their hands dirty.

While you and I may enjoy a decent meal tonight, there are many out there who would go to sleep with an empty stomach. Spare a thought for the poor and hungry, and if you can, extend it to those who go out of their way to feed the needy.

*This is the personal opinion of the columnist. 

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