Free Astros won’t help the poor, says NGO

Wong believes one of the best solutions is to teach the poor to make wise decisions in spending their earnings.

PETALING JAYA: A welfare organisation has urged the government to run financial education programmes for the poor and to avoid addressing poverty with quick fixes.

The Suriana Welfare Society made the call after residents of Tuaran in Sabah were given free Astro decoders and free monthly subscriptions under the government’s eKasih programme.

Suriana director Scott Wong told FMT this was an example of a quick fix. He acknowledged that it helped the poor save money but said this raised the question of how the savings would be used.

“Getting free Astro lifts quite a great burden from them because they would ordinarily pay quite a sum for it,” he said. “But they could end up spending the money they’ve saved on unnecessary things.”

He called for long-term plans to end poverty and said he believed one of the best solutions was to teach the poor to make wise decisions in spending their earnings.

“Give them financial management courses and mentorship,” he said. “Teach them micro-financing. Teach them how to run profitable businesses.

“This is a long-term plan that will help them break from the cycle of poverty, but it takes commitment, and the commitment must come from everyone involved, including the people conducting the courses.”

Wong said Suriana had found, through its work with residents of Desa Mentari Apartments here, that the poor had to deal with a multiplicity of issues and debt was among the biggest of these.

“Teaching them the difference between needs and wants is one thing, but then you must also teach them that after their needs are taken care of, whatever extra money they have should be used for payment of debts,” he said.

“Many of the poor in Desa Mentari, for example, are living beyond their means and, with some of them, the debt obligations are as high as RM6,000 a month.”

In an FMT interview last month, Wong said Suriana was seeking to break the cycle of poverty that dwellers in low-cost flats were caught in.

“Go to any low-cost flat and look at the number of Astro dishes you see hanging from the balconies,” he said. “They can afford Astro, but they can’t afford food.”

Villagers turn down free Astro and minister is happy

Breaking the cycle of poverty, one step at a time