BY COLINNA RADANG
Our journalist recently had the opportunity to interview Welfare, Community Wellbeing, Women, Family and Childhood Development Minister Datuk Seri Fatimah Abdullah to share her thoughts on the problems and solutions in dealing with the Covid-19 outbreak.
Question: You have been instructed to undergo self-home quarantine after you happened to be involved with some Covid-19 positive individuals. Based on this experience, does it give you some inspiration (for example, what further actions should the state government take)?
Answer: To direct an individual to self-home quarantine, we must first look at the individual’s home situation and family background – to ensure that the effort (to self-home quarantine) is effective – especially in terms of social distancing practice at home. We cannot ask them to undergo self-home quarantine without first realising its appropriateness and effectiveness.
Question: What do you think of the situation when a sole breadwinner of a family is directed to self-quarantine at home?
Answer: Our target groups such as the daily wage earners and those who have lost their income (throughout the movement control order or MCO) will receive assistance under the Welfare Department where they are also recipients of the State Food Aid (managed by the State Disaster Management Committee or JPBN).
However, we have been informed that there are sections that are excluded from the list of beneficiaries. This could be because they are not living in their own home (according to the address provided to us) or they live in remote or squatter areas. This group usually consists of people who work as labourers and live on ‘rumah kongsi’ (shared quarters) – as they are unable to return to their hometowns due to the MCO. Under our committee, these are the groups that are our main focus right now.
What does your ministry handle?
The food aid committee is set up to ensure that there is at least one meal on the table for each family daily. In this regard, we have identified individuals who are eligible to receive this assistance as well as ensured that the food supplies at 800 posts of sale throughout Sarawak are adequate. However, in order to do this work, we need an air transport service (helicopter) to help ferry the food supplies to the villagers in good time.
Since March, we have been distributing this food aid to the villagers before they receive their Prihatin Package from the federal government as well as the Sarawakku Sayang Assistance Package (BKSS) from the state government. What is important at this point is to put the basic needs first.
Based on our records, a total of 82 state constituencies across Sarawak have received their food assistance. However, there are still constituencies in the process of sending the food aid (with 90 percent and 50 percent completion rate).
What is the reason for the delay in the distribution of aid?
Based on our daily monitoring, it is found that there are 15 areas facing supply problems where the food distribution process is different according to the guidelines. To ensure that every household head (KRI) receives this assistance without exception, it must be performed according to our assigned list.
For the purchase of essential food items, we set aside RM100 for the urban population and RM50 for the rural population (which includes 5kg rice, 2kg sugar, flour, coffee, tea, cooking oil and bread). Our main priority is to focus on providing food aid to the low income groups (such as the B40 group).
Do you think food supplies are sufficient and how long can they last?
All citizens are entitled to receive assistance either from the federal or state governments. This assistance (money) can be used to buy basic food items for a later period.
Do you think the traders will not take advantage of the situation?
The Ministry of Domestic Trade and Consumer Affairs (KPDNHEP) is responsible for ensuring that goods such as rice, sugar, cooking oil, flour and others should remain at a fixed price. So far, the supply of food in the country is still adequate until the end of the year.
What are the precautions taken by the state government in dealing with extraordinary situation as Hari Raya and Gawai Dayak celebrations approach?
For this year, Muslims (all over the world) may not be able to carry out their regular activities during the fasting month and even on Hari Raya. So do the Dayak people, who will celebrate the Gawai Dayak celebration. We also know that the rakyat are also concerned about their source of income during this MCO period, especially for those with low incomes and those who have lost their source of income. Thus, the tele-counseling services (run by departments from each ministry) have been created to address the concerns of the people. Apart from that, the state government will also ensure that each individual (or family) receives the assistance.
Are you satisfied with your performance in dealing with the Covid-19 outbreak so far?
I cannot summarise the overall performance as this outbreak is not 100 percent resolved. I personally set a high target for our efforts to break the Covid-19 chain as quickly as possible, but what is important is the cooperation of all parties.
What is your message to Sarawakians in dealing with this difficult situation?
The MCO certainly puts pressure on us and yet it is something we have to do to break the Covid-19 chain. Therefore, let us follow the MCO instructions so that this viral outbreak can be stopped immediately.