Our Unseen Ones

So many things have been happening over the last few days. The queues thronging the Ministry of Religious Affairs for a slice of the Zakat funds, the heavy rains, the landslides, the flood and yesterday the unfortunate deaths of two of our countrymen due to both landslides and flood. As of last night, I saw parts of the Gadong area still in darkness and even the tunnel was still in the process of being cleaned. There have been fresh landslides even after the rains have stopped. I gather Gadong 1 at the Gadong Power Station was still down. It was submerged when Gadong River burst its banks.

Yesterday a few members of the public came to see me. One without an appointment regarding their family's land sale. What intrigued me was that during the conversation, I found out that one of them owned a number of properties which are rented out to families paid for by the Religious Council. Technically these are destitute people. He was telling me the story of one family of which he had to ask the Religious Council to move the members out of the area. Apparently, that particular family despite their so called poverty caused so much trouble in the area such as vandalism, theft, loud music etc. The other families complained. He does not know where they are now. I presumed wherever the Council moved them to, they will not stay there for long.

The other person who came to see me was a 40+ former policeman who retired in 1990. However since he retired he had not been able to hold a job for long. He had 85 applications (he had the letters) turned down. He had 4 kids with his first wife, two are married and he is now a grandfather. With his second wife, he has another two kids as well as three step children. Divorced from his first wife and his second wife is not working. He lives in Kampong Ayer and had to pay for his children's tambang to cross the river. He is on benefits again from the Council of around $400 a month. His biggest payment was to pay back his brother who pays for the house he is staying in of around $200 a month. He asked me to help him get a job with one of our departments as he is surviving on around $200 a month. His qualification - Form V.

From time to time I get to meet these people who came to see me. No doubt the people at the Community Development Department and the Religious Council now see many more on a daily basis. Some of these people seemed to be stuck forever in the poverty trap. Some like the first one, probably chose to be there because of their behaviour and attitude. Some like the latter, probably just could not get out. He does not have the qualification to get out. In our country of plenty, there are a number of these people who need our help. The Zakat funds must be used but not to pay for those who are on debt to pay because of over indulgence but to help genuine cases. The long queues to get the assistance forms and the media coverage on the possibility that many of these in the queues are in financial trouble of their own making have not helped.

It is also worrying that I have met a number of people who used to pay their zakats are now thinking of not paying zakats anymore. They said that why should their zakat money be used to pay for those on debts because they spent money on mobile phones etc. They might as well give their zakats directly to mosques and other noble causes. These are worrying trends and may have an impact in the amount of zakat collection in the future. We certainly need to think the right usage of the zakat funds.

Comments

Transparency is crucial in this case. Religious Affairs need to publish documents regarding the distribution of zakat. How many genuine cases are being considered; how many lives are positively affected with zakat contributions and a formal thank you to the contributors, amongst other things.

If people who previously bagi zakat, but now are reconsidering, at least let them know in terms of money and intangible benefits how their contributions are helping others in need. I think it would offer a better sense of satisfaction to know you helped better the lives of others.

But on the other hand, care must be taken to help finance those who really need it and not spend it on those who digged the graves themselves.

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