Substantial payment of aid to tsunami victims in Malaysia should be completed within the next ten days with a Ministerial statement presented to special Parliament sitting on January 17, to be followed with parliamentary debate
by Lim Kit Siang
(Parliament, Friday): At the international post-tsunami reconstruction summit in Jakarta yesterday, two challenges were highlighted: to ensure that the promised money from the pledges would actually be delivered and that the tsunami aid is properly and efficiently dispersed to the victims.
It is most regrettable that the second challenge has not been given the due priority and importance in Malaysia, despite the outpouring of generosity and charity of Malaysian donors who want their money spent immediately - giving rise to mounting unhappiness and complaints about unfairness and inordinate delays in the payment of aid to the local tsunami victims.
This is inexcusable as it is already coming to two weeks since the December 26 killer tsunami waves wrought its arc of death and destruction, which included the northern coasts of peninsula Malaysia.
Although the Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi said in Jakarta on Wednesday that the Cabinet had ordered that aid to tsunami victims in the country be speeded up so that they can swiftly regain their livelihood, the Cabinet must get the message of the unhappiness of Malaysians loud and clear that the pace of giving out aid is just not fast and efficient enough so that fishermen who lost their boats or shops which were destroyed could be given immediate assistance to start life anew.
Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak said after the Cabinet meeting on Wednesday that government departments tasked with assessing the damage inflicted by the tsunami catastrophe have been asked to complete their job in three weeks – which will already be the last few days of the month.
When payments are finally paid, it will be the first week or first half of February, some six or seven weeks after the Dec. 26 disaster – a length of delay which is clearly intolerable and scandalous, not only for the injustice to the tsunami victims but also for the gross inefficiency and unacceptable bureaucracy in the whole system of crisis-management and the handling of disaster reliefs.
There must be an entire new mindset of urgency in the disbursement of aid to the tsunami victims to restore homes and to allow fishermen to return to their livelihood without any unnecessary bureaucratic delay, with the substantial payment of the aid to the tsunami victims in the country completed within the next 10 days, so that a Ministerial statement of the tsunami catastrophe in Malaysia, including the disbursement of tsunami aid, could be presented to the special Parliamentary sitting on January 17, to be followed with a special Parliamentary debate.
There have been complaints that the payment of tsunami aid, both in kind and cash, to the victims had been unnecessarily and unreasonably held up in relief centres to suit the time and convenience of “big-shot government politicians to come and distribute them” with all the attendant media publicity. This was why the first payment of RM500 aid for every evacuated family took 10 days when they should have all been paid out within 24 hours, or latest within 48 hours, of the tsunami disaster.
Such cynical exploitation of the sufferings of the tsunami victims for political gain should stop immediately, and the requirement for some “big-shot government politician” to be present before any tsunami aid could be given out to the victims should be dispensed with completely.
* Lim Kit Siang, Parliamentary Opposition Leader, MP for Ipoh Timur & DAP Central Policy and Strategic Planning Commission Chairman