By Erda Khursyiah Basir
KUALA LUMPUR: The Food Bank Malaysia programme, an initiative of the Pakatan Harapan government to ease the cost of living, has benefited 85,489 recipients between last August and March this year.
The programme, targeted at the B40 households and public university students, is the brainchild of Domestic Trade and Consumer Affairs Minister Datuk Seri Saifuddin Nasution Ismail and was officially launched on Dec 22 last year.
Under the programme, surplus foodstuff such as bread, vegetables and fruits from various supermarkets will be channelled to about 186,354 heads of households nationwide living below the poverty line.
Giving them access to the food will enable them to cut down on their food purchases and use the money saved for other important purposes like education and health.
Some 1,156 metric tonnes of surplus food, which would otherwise have ended up in garbage bins, have been “saved” since the implementation of the programme.
Federation of Malaysian Consumer Associations (Fomca) deputy president Mohd Yusof Abdul Rahman urged the Domestic Trade and Consumer Affairs Ministry to expand its network of food aid recipients by collaborating with various other groups, particularly non-governmental organisations (NGOs), nationwide.
“It is a very noble effort. Others have also carried out similar initiatives but on a smaller scale to help the needy and homeless and university students who have had to go hungry due to financial constraints,” he said.
He was certain that since Food Bank Malaysia was spearheaded by the ministry itself, more hypermarkets, hotels and other food outlets would come forward to extend their cooperation. When more organisations are involved, more people can be helped, he told Bernama.
To improve the implementation of food aid initiatives, he suggested that the groups behind these programmes coordinate their efforts to avoid duplication of assistance to the same target groups.
Associate Prof Dr Nurhaizal Azam Arif, a lecturer in international business and multinational enterprise at Hiroshima City University in Japan, views Food Bank Malaysia as an initiative that would not only ease the financial burden of the needy but also reduce food wastage.
It also indirectly contributes to the development of human- and environment-friendly business concepts, he pointed out.
“Many (organisations) are open to donating (their excess food). This will help to reduce wastage of unsold foodstuffs which (in normal circumstances) will be thrown away,” he said.
Commenting on other programmes that can be implemented to help needy groups to cope with the higher cost of living, Nurhaizal Azam said as a short-term measure they can be given vouchers to buy household essentials or school necessities or to meet their educational needs.
“For the long term, the government has to make changes to its economic, industrial and social development policies to create more job opportunities.
“Currently, there seems to be a mismatch between the supply of manpower and job opportunities available. We have many graduates but their qualifications are not compatible with the requirements of the jobs available,” he said.
Nurhaizal Azam also said that while Budget 2019’s targeted fuel subsidy scheme, expected to be implemented in the second quarter of this year, was a good proposal, it has to be studied thoroughly before it was implemented.
“It is difficult to determine the eligibility because people’s incomes tend to fluctuate. It will also require petrol stations to conduct its transactions through e-payments, as well as have its identification system changed to a face recognition system,” he said.
Saifuddin had said last week that the government was mulling a proposal to bank in the money directly into the accounts of those eligible for the proposed petrol subsidy.
He said his ministry would use the ‘Bantuan Sara Hidup’ (BSH) database to identify those in the B40 group who were eligible for the subsidy.
Fomca’s Mohd Yusof, meanwhile, said the government’s move to cap the ceiling price of RON95 petrol at RM2.08 per litre in February reflected its commitment to help relieve the financial burden of the lower-income groups.
Prior to that, the ceiling price of RON95 was RM2.20 per litre. The ceiling price for diesel is RM2.18 per litre while there is no ceiling price for RON97, a higher grade of petrol.
The retail price of RON95 will remain at RM2.08 per litre even if the global crude oil price increases. If the global price dips below RM2.08, then its retail price will be brought down accordingly.
The government, meanwhile, has also proposed an index to measure the cost of living to assist employers to determine reasonable pay hikes for their employees.
Earlier in January, Saifuddin said the Cabinet has recognised that there were at least six main components which contributed to the people’s burden, namely food, housing, utilities, transportation, health and education. – Bernama