By Wong Chen
As of last night, the RM300,000 allocation for food has yet to be banked into our office accounts. This is expected to happen either today or tomorrow. We will notify you when it happens. Some MPs, in particular in KL have received their allocations since yesterday.
Nevertheless, my office has contacted the ICU office yesterday and we are putting in a special request to hand out shopping vouchers instead of purchasing food items. The ICU will consider the request and get back to us.
Our greater preference is to hand out shopping vouchers, instead of thousands of boxes of food. This is an issue of logistics, wastage, mark-ups, costs and public health safety.
The guideline from the government is to ask the MP office to pack food items such as rice, oil, sugar, tin food in a prescribed quantity. We are supposed to purchase these items, transport, store and distribute and the total cost should not be above RM100 per pack. The RM100 target includes all the food items, handling, storage, transport and distribution costs too.
What it means is that the recipients of the food packs will definitely not receive anywhere near the full RM100. At this moment, my team is doing costing estimates, and a good estimate is that recipients may get RM70 worth of food items, with RM30 to be spent on handling and distribution costs.
At a budget of RM300,000 and RM100 per pack each, we are targeted to distribute 3,000 boxes of food to struggling constituents.
This is an objective that assumes that I have a ground floor office big enough to store 30,000 kilos of rice, 3,000 kilo of cooking oil, 3,000 kilo of sugar, 3,000 kilo of flour, 3,000 tins each of condensed milk and sardines, 3,00 packs each of salt, noodles, soya sauce, chilli sauce, tea, coffee and biscuits.
For that kind of logistical operation, other than having a mini warehouse, I will obviously also need two 10 tonne lorries, a small army of at least 30 officers and volunteers, each undertaking to handle 100 boxes and then deliver them to constituents in need.
Alternatively, we can contact a wholesaler that will organise everything, set up massive tents in an empty carpark, and then people can walk in, queue up and receive these boxes of food. But this will require crowds coming to the distribution site, breaking all MCO rules and indirectly spread Covid-19 further. First come, first served basis will also cause chaos and pandemonium. With walk-ins, there is also just no way to prove who is in desperate financial need and who isn’t.
What’s the logical alternative to distribute RM300,000 of food aid?
My office has been pioneering welfare delivery of shopping vouchers by Pos Laju since last year. It is super simple. We send shopping vouchers to the poor. They can choose to buy the food that they want and need. These shopping vouchers prohibit the purchase of cigarettes or alcohols. The vouchers are from 99 Speedmart and Giant. We like 99 Speedmart because their locations are in poorer neighbourhoods, making it easier for recipients to shop.
Since the pandemic to today, we have sent out RM200 of food vouchers each to 600 recipients. It is fully in compliant with MCO and absolutely safe for everyone. It is targeted (only the verified poor in my database will receive aid) and it is free of corruption, mark-ups and wastage.
Under our system, how will we utilise the RM300,000? The handling cost per recipient is about RM10 (RM8 for the pos laju envelopes, RM2 miscellaneous costs). The net result is the recipient will get a net RM90 from the RM100 budget. This is better than the estimated net RM70 and a lot, lot less work for all.
We shall wait and see the response from the ICU office to our shopping voucher proposal. If the ICU says no to us, we will have to purchase goods, find a large enough premise to store, sort and then mobilise volunteers to distribute.
So please stay tuned, we may just need your help to volunteer.