Consumers Association of Penang

Giving voice to the little people...since 1970

Getting a grip of the loan shark problems

ah-longWe are all aware of the havoc Ah Longs have wrecked in the lives of the families where one of its member was unfortunate enough to have borrowed money from the Ah Longs.

How many more suicides, how many borrowers have to be disowned by their families before government takes the Ah Long problem seriously? We cannot take the attitude that these people should have known better than to borrow from Ah Longs.
 
With their high interest rates, and unsavoury reputation, those who chose to borrow from the Ah Longs can only be said to be desperate.
 
What was the cause of their desperation?

People who seek out the loan sharks are mostly gamblers and small traders.  As compulsive gamblers and petty business are mostly the ones who approach the Ah Longs, government must turn its attention to these two groups of people in order to solve the problem of Ah Longs.

The gamblers

Yes, gambling has taken a firm foothold in Malaysia.  Popular are bets on international and local football matches. Housewives put down a couple of ringgit each day to bet on the illegal numbers market.  Toto, 4D, Magnum have become household names.  Even children have become experts in buying the betting tickets from illegal syndicates for their parents

According to Michael Chong, MCA’s public services and complaints bureau chairman, about 80% of the borowers who have defaulted on their loans are habitual gambler. The Ah Longs are the only ones who are willing to fund their gambling addiction.  

If follows that to overcome the Ah Long problem, action must be taken to tackle the gambling menace. Government should take the following into consideration:-

a) Gambling syndicates

In 2004 it was said that illegal syndicates were taking about six million ringgit on bets on each match day during the football season.  (Utusan Malaysia 14.6.2004).

Therefore the police must constantly carry out raids especially during the football season so that it will be harder for the syndicates to operate.

b) Profitability

Government needs to make gambling a less profitable business to run and at the same time make gambling winnings less attractive.

Duties and gaming tax on every form of gambling should be increased significantly so that it less profitable to be involved in gambling either as an organizer or a punter.

c) Gambling venues

Even though the four digit forecast ore Sports Toto are not  likely to be the cause of gamblers seeking out the  Ah Longs they may be the start of the gambling bug.

Therefore there is a need to reduce the number of gambling venues. The fewer venues make it less convenient to place a bet.  This must be reinforced by going after the illegal forecast syndicates.

Having many outlets doting all over town also gives gambling the respectability that it does not receive.

Even though we have only one casino in Malaysia it is already one too many.  There are also ship cruises that go no where and whose aim is to allow gambling in international waters.

d) Campaign

Have a campaign to highlight the evils of gambling. Gambling should be seen as an unhealthy habit like drugs and smoking.   This is to discourage the young ones to become compulsive gamblers.

According to the National University of Singapore sociology researcher, Mr. Ho Teck Hua  , gambling is a tough , incremental habit to battle.  Gambling addict has no control over their habits.  They keep doubling up to try to win back what they’ve lost, and in the end they usually just lose more.   Thus he recommended that a more effective way to tackle the problem might be to try and prevent the addiction in the first place.  (Values or Casino? – Tan Soo San)

e) Counseling

It is also time to owe up to the fact that it is very hard for compulsive gamblers to quit gambling on their own.  The gamblers go back to their old ways even though they did not want to hurt the families.

Just as there is help extended to drug addicts and smokers to kick there habit, there should also be one for gamblers.  

Non-gambling loans

When loans are hard to come by for the small business or petty traders, the Ah Longs are the ones that they turn to.

Those who take loans from the Ah Longs will find it hard to break the poverty circle as the profit they make will be used to pay back the Ah Longs.

It is important to break the vicious circle so that the hawker’s or petty trader’s position will improve economically.

As such there is a need to make such loans easily available and affordable.  They process of applying for such a loan should be simple with as little red tape as possible.

With the down turn in the economy even professional are using the services of the Ah Longs.

According to one Ah Long, it used to be that a majority of  his borrowers were  those with gabling debts  However lately, about half of his customers are professionals that include doctors, lawyers and even company chief executive officers. These are the people who live beyond their means and have huge commitments. After being blacklisted by the banks for unpaid debts, they too are forced to seek out the Ah Longs (New Straits Times 29-10-08)

The situation is going to get worse as the current economic downturn worsens.  

Thus there is need to caution the public about over spending on   purchases which they cannot afford.

Conclusion 

The problem of Ah Longs can be solved by a three prong approach.

Firstly, the government must send a clear warning to the public that it does not support the gambling habit as gamblers may end up as victims of Ah Longs. It must therefore reduce the number of legalized gambling venues and reduce the number of draws per week.

Secondly, it should also recognize the fact that if it wants to help the poor break from the poverty cycle, it has no choice but to make cheap loans available to petty traders and those in small industries.

Lastly it should come down hard on the illegal gambling syndicates and the Ah Longs.  Getting to the Ah Longs is not difficult as their advertisements are all over town.