Do more for foreign labourers in need

Governments all over the world have made the decision to put their countries in some form of lockdown as a step to battle the COVID-19 disease. While obviously necessary, the lockdowns have left a segment of these countries’ population in a very vulnerable situation.

In Malaysia, the Movement Control Order 2020 (MCO) has put foreign labourers, be they documented or undocumented, in a dangerous situation as most of them have reported not receiving any salary from their employers or any form of aid in terms of food and other daily necessities.

It is only recently that the government has allowed the NGOs that were stopped from their usual distribution of aid (food, toiletries, etc) to resume their work, if they follow the SOP that has been set out. However, most of these NGOs already have their predetermined target groups that need their aid, such as the handicapped, old folks, and more. It is not feasible for these NGOs to look out for all the foreign labourers who are in dire need on top of the people they usually help.

It makes sense then that despite the foreign embassies in Malaysia requesting NGOs to aid their nationals, the Defence Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob has urged embassies to actively provide aid to their people by liaising with the respective district disaster management committees. He said that the government would help in procuring the things that the embassies need for their aid efforts.

Still the government should do more to aid foreign labourers. When asked about the fate of refugees the Defence Minister said that “the government won’t allow citizens local or foreign to go hungry”. It is vital that the government also take the initiative to fund the aid efforts for foreign labourers. Foreign labourers are not considered citizens, but we must remember that even if they are not, they are here in Malaysia doing jobs that many locals would not do themselves.

The Consumers Association of Penang (CAP) calls on the government to not only facilitate the aid efforts of  foreign embassies and NGOs to help foreign labourers, but to also provide to it financially under the COVID-19 stimulus package as foreign labourers are an important part of our country and also on humanitarian grounds.

CAP also ask that foreign labourers, particularly undocumented ones, be assured that they have nothing to fear in receiving this aid; just as they are free to get tested for COVID-19 without being reported to the authorities.

 

Letter to the Editor , 4 April 2020

Ban Ramadhan bazaars this year for the public’s safety

Despite the COVID-19 disease that is currently plaguing our country, many states still maintain that Ramadhan bazaars will be allowed to operate. The Consumer Association of Penang (CAP) is completely against any Ramadhan bazaars operating this year as it would completely defeat the purpose of the social distancing we have been practicing and puts peoples’ lives at risk.

Ramadhan begins towards the end of April (23 April 2020) and according to the Ministry of Health as well as third party experts there could be a surge in COVID-19 cases in the middle of April as it is predicted that the disease will reach its peak in Malaysia then. However how long does the peak of a viral disease even last? It could be a day or a week, or even longer than that. The timeline between the predicted peak in COVID-19 cases in our country and the beginning of Ramadhan is too close for comfort.

Furthermore, the excuse that the government is thinking about the welfare of the urban people by letting the Ramadhan bazaars carry on as usual is a weak one at best. If the government is worried about urban people not having time to cook after coming home from work, then there are other things that can be done such as providing a catering system for urban folk. The government could also provide them with financial aid so that they can order from food delivery services. It is important that the government think of a better way to help urban people that will allow for less contact between people.

For those who believe that since restaurants are still allowed to operate then the Ramadhan bazaars should also be allowed to operate, but it would not be accurate to compare the two. The situations at Ramadhan bazaars are more like wet markets and night markets than restaurants. There are usually a huge number of people moving about the area at the same time. Even if the authorities were to put restrictions in place there is no guarantee that they will be followed. We have clearly seen this happen at a few wet markets that were forced to close as they did not follow the restrictions that were set out. There is a high chance that this will also happen at the Ramadhan bazaars if they operate.

In view of the COVID-19 pandemic CAP calls on the Malaysian Government to ban all Ramadhan bazaars this year and to establish a better way to assist the urban folk during this year’s Ramadhan. Additionally, the government should assist Ramadhan bazaar traders who will be losing their main source of income this year by including them in the COVID-19 stimulus package.

If the government can make the crucial decision to ban Friday prayers in mosque for our safety, then certainly they can ban Ramadhan bazaars which are of less importance.

 

Press Statement, 3 April 2020

Protect the welfare of indigenous communities in Sarawak amid the MCO

SAM has been receiving reports from indigenous communities in interior Sarawak, which describe how the movement control order (MCO) has affected them. The communities are currently anxious over the dwindling supply of essential food items, daily necessities and cash, and their inability to access medical, banking and other essential services and sell their produce in the nearest rural towns.

As a result of the decline in soil fertility and the proliferation of pests brought about by logging and plantation operations, in the last 30 years, many Sarawak indigenous families had been forced to abandon the cultivation of hill rice. For such families, rice is now purchased in the nearest town, along with other food items such as cooking oil, seasoning herbs and spices, sauces, sugar, salt, infant formula, flour, coffee and tea as well as daily necessities such as fuel and personal care and cleaning products. Fortunately, they are still able to depend on their farms and rivers to provide them with vegetables, fruits and fish, proving to us how a diversified agricultural strategy is instrumental for food security.

Therefore, in order to ensure that their welfare is protected, we urge that the authorities immediately undertake the following actions:

(i) The establishment of a special village committee on disaster management whose tasks will include:

(a) the reporting of the essential needs of their community, including important food items and daily necessities and any other special needs, such as the supply of potable water, to the selected nearest designated authority; and the joint identification, implementation and monitoring of the delivery methods of these essentials;

(b) the fair distribution of essential foods and goods that have been delivered by the authorities amongst their community members, based on the number of persons in each household and considerations of any special needs of specific families;

(c) the issuance of any written approval for community members who may need to access essential services such as medical appointments and emergencies and banking in town, and the joint coordination with the relevant authorities to assist such individuals to travel and access these services; and

(d) the implementation of a standard operating procedure when a community member is suspected to be showing symptoms associated with Covid-19.

(ii) The direct and bulk delivery of essential items to the community by the authorities to minimise direct contact, adhering to the guidelines established under the MCO. The total coverage of all such support mechanisms must not discriminate against communities who live under the leadership of residents’ associations and village heads who have not been appointed by the state.

(iii) The strict prohibition against visits by outside parties to rural indigenous communities, including workers of plantation and logging companies; as well as voluntary humanitarian missions, unless official permits have been given to the latter.

(iv) The delivery of the same assistance to the school hostels located in the interior which may need such a support.

(v) The provision of support through the said committee, whenever possible, for rural indigenous communities to send their agricultural and forest produce to the nearest trading hubs, in accordance with the procedures that have been established under the MCO, so that the communities may continue to receive some income, while produce wastage can be avoided and the local food security can be improved. This marketing mechanism may require the support of a specific local stimulus package and logistical assistance from the relevant authorities.

(vi) The clear permission for rural indigenous communities living nearer to these rural towns where the MCO is tightly enforced by the police and local authorities, to continue their agricultural and fishery activities that may take place within a permissible range from their houses, be they for income generation or self-sufficiency needs, provided that social distancing and other health precautions can be observed.

It is our hope that our calls above will be considered and implemented by the authorities as soon as possible.

 

Media statement, April 2, 2020

Eminent activist, Martin Khor Kok Peng passes away

Martin Khor Kok Peng.

GEORGETOWN, PENANG:  Malaysia has lost one of its best activist who was also an intellectual of international standing who had worked tirelessly for the downtrodden and the disadvantaged South.

Martin Khor was the Honorary Secretary of the Consumers Association of Penang, Advisor to the Third World Network, Council Member of Sahabat Alam Malaysia and former Executive Director of South Centre (a group representing the interests of the 53 developing countries based in Geneva).

He passed away this morning in Penang, of cancer and leaves behind a wife and daughter.

He was best remembered for his many contributions to the poor communities in Malaysia including Kuala Juru, Thean Teik Estate, and the fight against Asian Rare Earth and the stopping of the Penang Hill project.

Martin was an intellectual who communicated in a simple manner to reach out to people. He worked tirelessly for a just and equitable world economic order. He also gave up his job as a civil servant in the Ministry of Finance, Singapore.

Martin was instrumental to the development of CAP together with the late S M Mohamed Idris, creating one of the most vibrant consumer groups which had become a model for consumer associations in developing countries. He had mentored countless activists around the world who had the opportunity to work with him.

The global community in the South remembers him for his work on representing and articulating the views of the South in relation to unfair trade in the World Trade Organisation. He was also in the forefront globally in the climate change negotiations, representing the views of the South. Antibiotic resistance, access to medicine and the rational use of drugs were the latest issues he was working on.

Martin Khor is an economist trained at Cambridge University and the University Sains Malaysia. He is the author of many books and articles on economics, sustainable development, globalisation, trade and intellectual property.

He was formerly a member of the UN Committee on Development Policy, the UN Secretary General’s Task Force on Environment and Development and a Vice Chair of the Expert Group on the Right to Development of the UN Human Rights Commission.

It is with tremendous heartfelt sadness and loss that we at CAP, consumers in Malaysia and in the global South who will miss his leadership and activism in fighting for their rights.

 

Press Statement, 1 April 2020

Allow slaughtering of poultry in wet markets

The Consumers Association of Penang (CAP) urges the Penang Island City Council (MBPP) to allow the slaughtering of poultry in the market as consumers should have a choice between dressed poultry and those that are freshly slaughtered in wet markets.

The reasons for doing away with the slaughtering poultry are not good enough because there are ways to circumvent the existing problems than arbitrarily brushing away the practice as unhygienic and also the issue of unhealthy disposal of waste. Such problems can be addressed.

Our call comes as a response to the Penang Island City Council (MBPP)’s construction of a poultry distribution centre at the Batu Lanchang market. It is expected to be completed next year, slowly phasing out the slaughtering of poultry in wet markets with this distribution centre delivering dressed poultry to the 126 poultry sellers in 26 markets  on Penang Island.

It might appear hygienic, but the time taken for a processed poultry until the time of their delivery to the retailer has to be considered as it might take hours to do so. Any unsold poultry have to be frozen, if kept under in the refrigeration section, they can only last for one to two days according to the food safety information provided by U.S. government agencies Their quality will remain relatively well if kept frozen at -18oC but if exposed to repeated and prolonged exposure to elevated temperatures such as an increase of 6oC, they will experience a significant quality loss in terms of the tenderness, flavour, aroma, juiciness, and colour of the meat.

Such increase in temperature is not impossible, considering the declining performance of a freezer over time, and customers opening and closing of the freezer to select the poultry to buy.

We have to consider the time taken for a freshly slaughtered chicken in the market till the time it goes into the pot as compared to a ‘factory’ dressed chicken that had been slaughtered hours or perhaps a day ago, assuming that both chickens are cooked soon after arriving home from the market.

The other factor that we have to look at is that frozen poultry does not mean that they are bacteria-free. Freezers only slow the proliferation of microorganisms such as salmonella and campylobacter that commonly cause food poisoning.

As for the dirty and unhygienic condition of the current wet market’s poultry section can be addressed.

As of the current system, poultry are mostly slaughtered on the floor and hence dirty and unhygienic. Although the floor is washed at the end of the day, congealed blood, fats, and remnants of the poultry parts inevitably get into the drain. For the innards and other parts of the poultry, they are most discarded into huge uncovered bins and these attracts scavenging birds and animals.

Thus, Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) recommended albeit for abattoir, that blood from, which in this case is the slaughtered poultry, is collected and coagulated into a solid mass to prevent it from blocking up the drains. The blood can be used for stockfeed production or fertilisers. The lids of the oversized bins can be modified to incorporate a smaller opening with a flip lid to prevent scavenging animals’ access. Poultry sellers are reluctant to close the lid of such bins because they are huge and heavy. Install grease traps to help clear the bits of fatty tissues in the wastewater.

The existing problems of ‘unhygienic’ poultry retailing section of the wet market are not unsurmountable; it just need some ideas to restructure the system without ‘reinventing the wheel’. As such CAP would call on the MBPP to introduce facilities that enable poultry sellers to continue slaughtering poultry the traditional way but cleanly and hygienically.

 

Press Statement, 29 March 2020