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BR1M – a lazy and desperate programme

COMMENT: I can’t help noticing that some individuals are now comparing the much-debated BR1M programme with other social aid schemes like the Oportunidades in Mexico. It gave me a sudden spell of vertigo when ignorant people started praising BR1M and crediting it to be a Malaysian version of a comprehensive programme like the Oportunidades.

Oportunidades is a social assistance programme launched by the Mexican government in 2002 in which its policy is to ensure that poor Mexicans get access to equal opportunities for better living. To date, the programme has assisted 6.5 million families in every state in the country while covering 100 per cent of the nation’s municipalities.

While BR1M is just about handing out financial assistance to Malaysian families earning a monthly income of less than RM3,000, Oportunidades is an extremely comprehensive programme that covers medical assistance, education and nutrition for poor Mexicans. BR1M is just a lazy programme created by the Barisan Nasional government to prepare itself in the run-up to the 13th general election.

The benefits of Oportunidades include direct cash transfers to mothers and women, educational grants for the children, economic incentives to high school students, basic healthcare, communal health educative workshops, nutritional supplements for infants, food aid, and child benefits. I don’t remember BR1M to be as comprehensive as this.

Oportunidades has become a model to countries like Brazil which started the Bolsa Familia programme in 2006; another programme that was inspired by Oportunidades is the Opportunity NYC programme in New York.

PKR strategy director Rafizi Ramli once said that Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak’s pledge to pay out BR1M annually would cost taxpayers as much as RM11 billion a year by 2023, and not solve the woes facing lower-income households.

He said the pledge to make the popular cash handout a permanent policy also signalled a failure to understand the underlying problems affecting Malaysia’s economy.

“This approach is not that smart because it will lead to big spending without changing the economic structure when this RM7 billion to RM11 billion spent yearly can be used to reduce prices, abolish tolls and reduce car prices,” said Rafizi, the Pandan MP.

There is nothing wrong with a well-thought and comprehensive social assistance programme; the problem is BR1M is just a poorly thought and desperate attempt to hastily win the hearts of the people before the general election. Trying to compare BR1M to Oportunidades is like adding acid to a severe wound.

Furthermore, the Malaysian government is world famous for introducing half-baked programmes without any research. A good example is the now-defunct PPSMI (Teaching and Learning of Science and Mathematics in English) and of course, the almost nowhere-to-be-seen 1Malaysia programme.

The government must stop being greedy and lazy; it must start making long-term efforts to help the people. BR1M is not the solution and attempts to compare it to other proven social assistance programmes will not help.

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