Volunteer Groups: Stop Confusion on Food Distribution

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Civil society groups said today they welcome the government reversing its decision preventing them distributing food to the needy, but were still confused about how the government intends to allow them to make deliveries, and that more could be done to ensure people are properly fed.

The groups also said conflicting instructions from the authorities are not helping their cause at all.

Initially, the government said civil society groups could not deliver food and essential goods to the needy to prevent the spread of Covid-19, insisting food be handed over to the Welfare Department.

The department would then pass food packages to frontline personnel enforcing the movement control order (MCO) to make the deliveries.

The groups found this to be cumbersome and said they feared food would not be distributed to the intended recipients.

Hari Anggara

Yesterday, the government reversed its decision and agreed to allow registered charity representatives to distribute food to the homeless, but under strict conditions according to new guidelines set by the Welfare Department.

“We are confused. Kuala Lumpur City Hall (DBKL) has implemented a strict food distribution system and we are in that system. Suddenly we hear something different,” said Pertiwi president Munirah Abdul Hamid on the confusion coming down from the top.

“One says only this strict system and nothing else. Another says go ahead, free for all as long as you are registered with the Welfare Department.”

She said Pertiwi will continue to work alongside DBKL to distribute food to the needy under the new guideline regardless.

“For now, we will stick to what was agreed upon yesterday. This looks doable with extra measures added in to improve procedures.”

Munirah said as of today, soup kitchens have been delivering food to shelters provided by DBKL.

Under the new guideline, only two people from a group can be present, they will also be accompanied by enforcement officials, including Rela or army personnel.

The new guideline laid out by the Welfare Department states that only cooked food and dry goods can be distributed.

“We cannot be changing systems every day. Let us try this and improve it, otherwise there will be too much confusion,” said the soup kitchen president.

“Civil society groups deliver on rotation all six meals per day to the four centres that now shelter the homeless. We are only allowed to drop off food.”

She added that groups are also complying with the new guideline given.

Justin Cheah from Kechara Kitchen welcomed the decision, but said it may be a bit difficult for groups to manage.

“It’s certainly a welcome decision from the government, but it is not general enough as it is now permitting two people from each group to help with the distribution, which is not enough.

“At the moment, most of the homeless are in shelters provided by DBKL. The distribution on the streets is minimal.

“Most of the urban poor or people on the brink of homelessness in Chow Kit would come to Medan Tuanku to collect their food during lunchtime.

“Distribution with Rela around would be helpful, whether it is to the urban poor at the PPR flats or homeless shelters,” Cheah said.

However, the decision to reverse the ban is not sitting well with some groups, which feel like more should be done.

Persatuan Sahabat Wanita Selangor in a press statement called upon the government to revise its policy on food distribution by civil society groups as it may leave out needy sectors of society who live in remote areas, out of reach by charity aid groups such as migrant workers, single mothers.

“The government must admit that it is inundated with pleas that have not been processed, in addition to the growing number of needy groups yet to be identified and accept assistance from civil society groups, other than those currently approved to execute the aid.

“A similar aid solution must be arrived upon that will allow groups to send food aid to the needy as there are thousands of daily-waged workers, especially single-mothers with children to feed and migrant workers abandoned by employers, amid the MCO,” said Persatuan Sahabat Wanita Selangor in a press statement.

Yesterday, The Malaysian Insight highlighted the plight of migrant workers who were left stranded by their employers without food or wages.

Most of them are living at construction sites and are afraid to leave their homes to look for supplies, especially food, as they might get caught by authorities.

The Malaysian Insight has also been informed by several charity aid workers that only registered charity aid groups are allowed to distribute food to the needy at locations permitted by the Welfare Department and Kuala Lumpur City Hall (DBKL).

Seth Akmal/TMI

According to Persatuan Sahabat Wanita Selangor, they tried reaching out to the related district Department of Social Welfare and other groups but failed.

“The Ministries of Defence and Health need to urgently look at revising the policy and allow groups to distribute food, applying disaster protocols that will suspend red tape procedures because the situation for many has become dire.

“The fact that people do not have food is a reality and it is not too late to reconsider a policy that is preventing food from reaching those in need,” the group said. – TMI