Wednesday, November 30, 2022



The anxiety of waiting for the results of GE15 is over, as is the jubilance. Very soon, the new cabinet will be announced. It will then be time to get down to brass tacks for our new unity government. We understand PM Anwar has plenty on his plate at the moment, so no demands just a wish list for him and the relevant ministries to work on as soon as he has seen to the top priorities.

But first, let me share my comments in an interview published in The Star dated 2 October. (I have taken the liberty to add my own images.)

"Every election, you can see many senior citizens lining up for hours at voting stations despite their weakness and frailty, just to carry out their democratic duty and cast their vote.

In return, our prospective representatives should pay this sage cohort the attention they deserve, especially now with many facing the brunt of inflation and the rising cost of living.

As gerontologist Lily Fu puts it, seniors like her would vote for candidates who will support and push for reforms that benefit seniors and the community they live in.

“We would also choose a candidate or party that acts for all older people without discriminating against race or religion, someone who understands the challenges of ageing and is proactive about seeking solutions.

“It is also important that the candidate we vote in will listen to the voices and feedback of seniors before implementing anything to ensure success. Because, otherwise, it’s money and resources down the drain,” says the 74-year-old who is also the founder of Seniors Aloud, an online network of senior citizens.

At present we do not have an inter-ministerial committee on ageing, but we do have a Malaysian Coalition On Ageing (MCOA) launched in Feb 2022.

Fu also urges for an agency for an ageing population to be set up to push for the needs and rights of older people.

She points out that among the most pressing issues for seniors is the provision of long-term care centers, particularly for seniors with no family or financial support.

“Currently, there are only two government-run ones in whole country!” she points out.

Me interviewing two senior citizens who are looking for jobs. They spoke about the difficulty in getting employed because of their age. They are in their 60s but still fit and able to work.

The government must also stamp out ageism in employment, she says.

“Open job opportunities to able seniors who want to work to support themselves [and their families]. The new 60-year-olds are not frail, senile or ready to drop dead! There is a huge pool of retirees with a wealth of expertise and experience to draw on, given the shrinking young labour force.

“In this respect, the government should also open digital and entrepreneurial training and upskilling opportunities to older people. Publicize HRDF [Human Resources Development Fund] workshops, etc, so that these seniors can apply for them,” Fu says.

A common sight at the Semantan MRT station. Long queues of commuters waiting in the sweltering noon heat. Oftentimes there are five to six buses with 'Out of service' displayed and the drivers sitting inside in air-con comfort busy scrolling on their mobile phones.

Another big area that needs attention is improving the country’s public transport system for the aged, especially for the last mile, she adds.

“The buses, especially feeder buses, are the bane of commuters. A total revamp is much needed. Also, have more age-friendly facilities in public places. When the government takes care of the public safety and needs of seniors, everyone benefits.

There should also be sustainable programs for the welfare and wellbeing of older people. It is pointless to have occasional, one-off campaigns. They don’t work.”

Senior citizens queuing up for food packages during the Covid pandemic. Most are jobless.

The recent Budget 2023 delivered by the former Minister of Finance on 7 Oct was a huge disappointment for senior citizens and the elderly. Once again, they were given crumbs. So, that begs the question, what can our government offer us older Malaysians to make us happy and looking forward to our retirement years? We have given 30-40 of our prime years in the service of the country. Surely that must merit some recognition and appreciation?

Above all, we want to be accorded respect and dignity, not be ignored or seen as unproductive and a burden to society

We certainly don't want empty pre-election promises of what the government can do or will do for us. We don't want vague general references to what it plans to do for seniors. We want details, specifics and deadlines. And if the government doesn't deliver, we have the right to protest, to hold it accountable if it reneges on its word, and not vote for any under-performing ministers should he or she stand for re-election. 

So, what do we want?

Here's a short checklist to begin with for the relevant ministries to take note of. In no particular order.
  • more elder-friendly facilities in public places e.g. government buildings, parks and hospitals. More benches to rest weary feet, decent public toilets, priority queues for the elderly, etc.
  • a public transport system (and transport hubs) that takes into account the physical limitations of the elderly and OKUs. There has been vast improvement in the MRT-LRT lines, but bus transport and the peripherals suck, and need urgent upgrading.
  • a senior privilege card with genuine discounts that covers items seniors regularly spend on. By 'genuine' we mean 'without a long list of terms and conditions'. The government should give seniors a discount card similar to the one for university students.
  • well-maintained and fully-equipped senior community centers in every housing area or constituency, not rundown under-utilized community halls that are usually locked up. 
  • more opportunities for re-training and re-employment of seniors so they can return to the work force to supplement their savings
  • more affordable nursing care for those who require long term care, and well-managed welfare homes for the elderly 
  • more lifelong learning programs similar to that offered at University of the Third Age at UPM Serdang to be extended to other states
  • no age discrimination but respect for all seniors, please
Morning exercises at a well-run assisted living facility set up by an NGO.

SeniorsAloud has been making these proposals as far back as 2009. We will continue to voice our concerns till we are heard.

To be fair and give credit where credit is due, we do appreciate the government's efforts in making public healthcare accessible and affordable to seniors. We welcome the 50% discount for seniors travelling on trains and buses, and the priority lanes for warga emas at government departments. We also acknowledge the financial assistance given to Selangor residents for funeral expenses under the Mesra Usia Emas Scheme and other schemes. 

But these provisions are either limited, too slow in implementation, or if already available are not efficiently maintained or managed. Moreover, most of these are concentrated in the Klang Valley. What about in other states? What about in Sabah and Sarawak? What is the govt doing for the wellbeing of the seniors and the elderly in these areas? Is it sufficient?

Many of our ministers are seniors themselves. Like us, they have elderly parents. The big difference is we are from the grassroots, they are from the ivory towers. One day they too will be elderly. Isn't it time they gave more attention to what senior citizens and the elderly want?

No comments: