Help for the poor with amended Act

PUTRAJAYA - People without means of subsistence, lacking food, clothing and shelter will be given more care and attention under an amended law that also aims to control begging in public places.

The proposed changes to the Destitute Persons Act 1977 are expected to be finalised in Septem­ber. It will force those who exploit beggars for their own gain to do community service.

"We find jail sentences are not necessarily effective to rehabilitate the offenders," said Social Welfare department legal and enforcement director Roslan Baba.

Under the Act, a destitute person means any person found begging in a public place or any idle person who has no visible means of subsistence or place of residence.

"The department faces difficulty in identifying syndicated operations as beggars do not reveal the names of masterminds or 'chiefs'.

"Therefore, the enforcement officers try to rescue beggars and rehabilitate them," said Roslan in an interview with The Star.

The Act empowers a social welfare officer to put a destitute person in a welfare home and, among others, provides rules for the management of welfare homes and the arrest of escaped destitute persons.

Roslan said the department has its Desa Bina Diri programmes, which seeks to give destitutes a direction in life and focuses on psychology, religion and vocational training.

The programme is being carried out in Mersing (Johor), Jerantut (Pahang) and Kota Kinabalu (Sabah).

He said senior citizens found begging would be placed in an old folks' home, while children made to beg would be placed in shelter homes.

He also said the department was in the midst of getting opinions from various stakeholders such as the police, immigration, local authorities and drug agency to improve the Act.

Roslan said that in 484 operations nationwide between January and April this year, 353 beggars were picked up. Among them were 213 men, while the others were women.

Most of them were found in Kuala Lumpur, Penang, Selangor and Johor and were aged between 30 and 50.

They beg at public places, mostly outside shopping complexes, bus terminals and LRT stations.

"We found they could rake in up to RM400 (S$155.5) a day during festive seasons and between RM30 and RM40 on normal days," Roslan revealed.

He said the department monitors the accounts of those given financial aid so the money is not misused.

"On one occasion, we found a beggar with RM15,000 in savings. But we cannot seize the money.

"We just stop providing assistance to the beggar," said Roslan, adding that the department gives up to RM450 to poor people with four school-going children to let them have a formal education and RM300 monthly for senior citizens.