Media Statement by Dr. Ong Kian Ming, MP for Serdang, on the 6th of July, 2014
The homeless in Kuala Lumpur will be facing a serious threat to their freedom starting on Monday with the start of “Ops Qaseh” which is being led by the Ministry of Women, Family and Community Development. The Minister, Dato’ Seri Rohani Abdul Karim, was reported to have said that this will be a ‘comprehensive’ operation to “ensure that there are no more Malaysians begging and wandering around the streets without getting the appropriate protection”. Furthermore, the Minister is reported to have said that the homeless will be “be given care and rehabilitation for three years and can be released early under two conditions, as per Section 8(1) of the Destitute Persons Act 1977, which are: The authorities are satisfied that the resident has obtained appropriate work to sustain themselves or has been released to someone who can support and take care of them”.
Under this Act, a Destitute Person means: “(a) any person found begging in a public place in such a way as to cause or to be likely to cause annoyance to persons frequenting the place or otherwise to create a nuisance; or (b) any idle person found in a public place, whether or not he is begging, who has no visible means of subsistence or place of residence or is unable to give a satisfactory account of himself.” A homeless person who is not begging would fall under category (b) of a Destitute Person under this Act.
Section 3 of the Destitute Persons Act (DPA) 1977 allows a Magistrate to require a destitute person to reside in a welfare home for up to one month. Section 4 of the DPA allows a Magistrate, based on the recommendation of a social welfare officer, to order a destitute person to remain in a welfare home for up to 3 years and this order can be extended for another three years. This means that a homeless person can be detained against his or her will for a period lasting up to 6 years!
Furthermore, the Minister was reported to have said that those rounded up under Ops Qaseh will not be released until they have found suitable employment or someone volunteers to take care of them including providing them with housing as per Section 8 (1) of the DPA.
Many of the homeless in Kuala Lumpur do not have regular jobs and have, for various reasons, lost contact with their family members. To require that they find regular jobs or proper homes before they are released from the welfare homes is unfair and unacceptable. Even criminals who have served their jail sentence are not required to prove that they have gainful employment or a permanent roof over their heads before they are released.
To detain the homeless in these welfare homes, especially if it is against their will, is an infringement of their political rights. To use the DPA to detain the homeless against their will is to make homelessness a crime and thus, should be condemned.