The decision on whether to formulate a new law or improve the Destitute Persons Act 1977 to tackle the issue of beggars can only be made after the review of the act is completed next year.
Social Welfare Department (JKM) deputy director-general (Strategy), Rosmahwati Ishak said the review of the act which would begin in July is expected to be completed in September next year.
“There is a need for the act to be reviewed to set the direction on the issue of beggars and the homeless as currently, there is no specific source of authority and legislation for the operation and handling of the group in the country,” she told Bernama in an exclusive interview recently.
She said the National Social Council (NSC) Meeting held in 2019 had decided that a new and more inclusive act be enacted to address the issue of the homeless and beggars holistically, by taking into account the powers and roles of the federal government, state governments and local authorities (PBT).
Following this, the Women, Family and Community Development Ministry (KPWKM) has taken the initiative to review the act to look into the issue more seriously and as a basis to see whether it is appropriate to formulate a new act or improve the existing act.
Bernama, in its series of special reports on the issue of beggars since Wednesday (Feb 16), drew attention to the issue of legal loopholes as among the reasons why begging activities are difficult to curb and that even cities like Kuala Lumpur have become a paradise for them.
The existing act is only applicable to providing protection and rehabilitation to the group with no elements of enforcement to tackle the issue.
Under the act, Malaysian adult beggars aged below 60 who have no family will be placed in Desa Bina Diri, a special home for the destitute while those aged above 60 are sent to Rumah Seri Kenangan, run by JKM.
There are five institutions in Johor, Selangor, Pahang, Sabah as well as Sarawak that are homes for destitute persons, including beggars and from 2017 to 2021, 7,312 individuals from the group were placed in institutions under JKM.
Rosmahwati said JKM itself was facing constraints in enforcing the Destitute Persons Act, especially involving beggars who moved from one location to another as well as seasonal ones who would carry out their activities during certain periods such as the month of Ramadan.
Apart from that, she said JKM also faced challenges in eradicating begging activities carried out by foreigners who are not subject to the act but under the jurisdictions of other agencies.
However, Rosmahwati said efforts to tackle the issue lie not only with the authorities but also the entire community.
She said among the main challenges faced by JKM was the generosity of the community in parting with their money when approached by beggars which only encouraged them to keep on begging with some even consider it as a career.
“Addressing begging activities is a joint responsibility between government agencies, non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and the public. It is the JKM’s hope that the community can work together to tackle the issue by stop giving alms to beggars,” she said.
She also advised the community to donate through the right channels such as the National Welfare Foundation (YKN), registered welfare homes, disaster victims, houses of worship or those who were really in need.
Meanwhile, Rosmahwati also expressed her concern over the begging culture on social media media as well as networking sites, such as Facebook, WhatsApp and Twitter which has become a trend now.
She stressed that individuals or organisations wanting to collect donations must obtain the approval from the Royal Malaysia Police or the respective state religious councils for contributions that were related to the construction of mosques or tahfiz centres.
When asked whether beggars were able to come out of this cocoon as many had returned to begging after leaving the JKM institution, Rosmahwati said it was not impossible if they were given jobs.
“JKM also hopes that NGOs can carry out more social activities such as motivational talks for the group to help them get jobs,” she said.
Rosmahwati said there were also various assistance provided by the government for the needy, including microcredit schemes under TEKUN and Amanah Ikhtiar Malaysia (AIM), in addition to guidance, training and support services.