Govt’s 13-item list for RM300k food basket inflexible, neglects nutrition needs

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The federal government’s list of 13 types of food items for food baskets to be given out using the RM300,000 allocation per MP does not provide flexibility to meet the different needs of different families, various MPs said.

The MPs also noted other issues, such as the RM100 per food box envisioned by the government’s terms and conditions. They claimed this would mean that only 3,000 families would receive aid, resulting in an imbalance for MPs whose constituencies have more residents.

One MP also pointed out that the government’s 13-item list does not address nutrition needs.

They were responding to Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin’s economic package Pemulih announcement last Monday. As part of the government relief package, each government MP is to be given RM300,000 while each Opposition MP would get the equivalent worth in food baskets to hand out to their respective constituents in desperate need of aid.

In a Facebook post today, Segambut MP Hannah Yeoh shared a list from the federal government on the specifics of the RM300,000 allocation and the necessities in each food basket.

According to Yeoh, the list specified 13 types of items, namely 10kg of rice, two units of 1kg cooking oil, two units of 1kg of sugar, two units of wheat flour (850g to 1kg per unit), two tins of condensed milk at 500g to 550g each, one unit of salt at 400g to 450g, two units of mee hoon at 350g to 400g, one bottle of sweet soy sauce at 600ml to 700ml, one bottle of chilli sauce at 300g to 400g, two tins of sardines at 400g to 425g, one unit of tea at 100g to 150g, one unit of coffee at 100g to 150g, and one unit of biscuits at 350g to 450g.

Also included in the document is the requirement for all food items to bear the halal logo issued by the Department of Islamic Development Malaysia (Jakim), along with the additional notes that the value of RM100 for the purchase of the 13 necessities includes costs for transport, packaging, wages, and printing for stickers. The food aid is also specified to be packed inside boxes, except for Sabah, Sarawak and Labuan, where the items are to be placed in plastic bags.

The same document cited the source of information as being the standard operating procedures for the management of the Finance Ministry’s allocations for food baskets under an earlier economic package known as Permai.

In the same Facebook post, Yeoh noted that MPs of smaller constituencies like Putrajaya with its smaller population would be at an advantage compared to MPs of bigger constituencies like Damansara and Bangi.

“The RM100 value per basket means we can only distribute to 3,000 families. The Putrajaya MP would benefit more compared to the Damansara or Bangi MP,” she said.

Miera Zulyana

Contacted later, Yeoh told Malay Mail that the list came from the Implementation and Coordination Unit (ICU) of the Prime Minister’s Office.

“Imagine a seat like Putrajaya, 8,000 voters, can buy 3,000 packs. That’s almost 50 percent of voters dapat, as compared to Bangi,” she said regarding the RM100 value for each food basket.

Yeoh explained that the sum of RM300,000 will be channelled to each MP, with MPs then to source and purchase the food basket, adding that MPs would have to ensure that the package has all the items on the list.

“I think this is not flexible enough for MPs. For example, big vs small families,” she said, noting that MPs could possibly give more items but described the list as a “minimum list” that MPs would have to follow.

“We want to reach as many as possible, so give us flexibility,” she said.

Bangi MP Ong Kian Ming said Yeoh’s calculations of the RM100 food basket would translate into aid for just 3,000 families. Calculating further for his constituency, he said that the RM300,000 allocation on those terms would benefit just 1.6 percent of residents in Bangi.

“My parliamentary area (P102 Bangi) has more than 187,000 voters (and >500k residents, estimated). Means the food baskets can be channelled to 1.6 percent of voters or 0.6 percent of residents,” he wrote on Twitter in Malay.

When contacted, Ong told Malay Mail that MPs should be allowed to adapt the items in the food baskets according to what the recipients would need.

“Firstly, MPs are not postmen to do delivery for the federal government for this bakul makanan programme. We should be able to customise our bakul makanan based on different community needs e.g. some families with young babies may want more milk, while others may not want bihun or kopi or susu pekat. We know our voters best, let us decide what to supply,” he said.

Firdaus Latif

“Secondly, many MPs want to source food from local hawkers and suppliers who have been badly hit by the MCO. This inflexible way of determining the kind of food aid we can distribute restricts our ability to find win-win solutions for our voters,” he added.

Ong said the value of RM300,000 is insufficient for urban constituencies like Bangi where the number of voters and residents far exceeds rural constituencies.

He said Opposition MPs should also be given the same full RM3.8 million annual allocation that government MPs are currently receiving.

Opposition MPs currently receive only RM100,000 in annual allocation. He added that opposition MPs received zero allocation when Barisan Nasional was in government.

“But now, this is a Covid-19 crisis, everyone should get the same allocation,” he said.

At the time of writing, Ong had not received any notification from the Selangor state-level Implementation and Coordination Unit (ICU) of the RM300,000 allocation being channelled from the federal government to his parliamentary office.

Klang MP Charles Santiago said the list of specified items for the food baskets has not taken into account the need to provide nutrition.

Charles too said he had yet to receive the RM300,000 allocation or the terms of expenditure when contacted by Malay Mail.

He said the Klang parliamentary constituency has about 150,000 voters and that the funds would not be very much to cover far and wide but added: “But we carry on.”

Based on the limited parliamentary funds, and donations, Charles said that his Klang parliamentary office has provided food aid — including vegetables and fish — to at least 80,000 families in Klang since the first movement control order (MCO 1.0) last year.

“We get donations from individuals and companies that contribute food, fish, etc. We operate a food bank since last year,” he said, adding that his team has been distributing vegetables and fish every weekend to different low-cost housing areas in Klang with poor and needy families.

Charles said his food bank already stocks the same items listed in the list and that those who need such aid either collect from his office or would receive the items by delivery quickly within the same day or the next day, but stressed the importance of the weekly distributions of vegetables and fish for the needy.

“On a weekly basis, we go to different parts of Klang, three or four, sometimes even five low-cost housing and we provide vegetables, fish. The reason why we did that, the latest Unicef study shows children in low-cost housing are malnourished,” he said, adding that sometimes only vegetables and fish are distributed as the families have already received food aid such as rice from others, but that basic food items are sometimes also distributed along with vegetables and fish according to needs.

In some instances, some families already have several packs of rice received separately from the different state assemblymen within Klang and Charles would then give them other needed items, but Charles also said that those who need such basic supplies can still contact his team.

“Whoever came out with the list doesn’t understand how people live and the need for balance or nutrition, and how the poor live during this time,” he said of the list of 13 items which he described as “not adequate”.

“Whatever food supply you give has to be balanced, it has to be nutritious. Children need nutrition at this age.

Hari Anggara

“The whole point is to provide a balanced diet for the family, we should treat them as family, if our family needs all this, they also need the same thing,” he said of vegetables and protein which his office has been giving in the form of fish.

This weekend, Charles plans to add on fruits as part of the food aid to be distributed out. Within about a month or so, Charles’ weekend distributions cover the needy areas in the entire Klang, and he then returns to the same neighbourhoods to give out vegetables and fish after about a month or so.

He said that the vegetables are purchased from small farmers in Klang and Cameron Highlands who also supply more than paid as they know it is for food aid, while the fish supplier is from Klang who had donated much of it.

Like Ong and Charles, Petaling Jaya MP Maria Chin Abdullah said she had not received any notice of the list which was specified for a RM100 box value, nor the RM300,000 allocation when contacted by Malay Mail this evening.

“If those are the items, I am totally disappointed as they are not substantial. People, especially those under lockdown at Mentari Court total about 3,469 units/families. So, the RM300k will be gone and still don’t cover all the families,” she said.

Two areas in her constituency are currently under the enhanced movement control order (EMCO), including the densely populated low-cost housing at Mentari Court.

“I have suppliers who can get most of those items plus eggs, potatoes, onions at around RM60-70. They should give suggestions but leave it to the MPs to decide on our budgets,” she added.

If given the flexibility to adapt the list, Maria said she would be able to reach out to at least 4,286 families with a RM70 value for each food basket and may be able to stretch it even further with some donations.

“Being able to reach 1,000 more families may save lives and miseries,” she said.

So far, Maria said she has been managing to provide help with a RM300,000 allocation from Selangor, but noted that not all can go to food aid as about RM100,000 goes to programmes, including food aid.

The remaining amount of about RM200,000 for food aid is almost used up as she has been distributing aid since January.

“Donations in kind and cash came from the public and for that I am grateful. Not a lot but then I had been targeting my distribution to the poor, unemployed, M40s who have lost their jobs for a long period of time, OKUs and the elderly who have very little resources.

Shafwan Zaidon

“I can’t afford to give to everyone who comes to my office due to my limited resources e.g. some come with medical, electricity bills, etc, and they can’t pay because they don’t have income. I had to select, and that’s painful. I should not be made to do that. That’s why the present aid from the government should have been done earlier with a full-screen testing and vaccination strategy,” she said.

Yesterday evening, the Prime Minister’s Office announced that the RM300,000 allocation for each MP has been channelled to them starting from yesterday. – MMO