by S. Arutchelvan
Just before 10pm, the health condition of Balan deteriorated. They had barely rushed him out of his house when, it appeared to family members that he had breathed his last. This was later confirmed by the Seremban General Hospital when they certified that he died of germs infection at 10pm. Tina, PSM’s closest comrade to Bala related this from the mortuary, “Anna, his eyes were still open Anna, his dreams have not been fulfilled”. End of a man who suffered much pain physically and emotionally. Yes, liberated from the pain and suffering from this world but leaving behind an unfinished task.
Three days before his death on Friday, I received a rare call from him. He asked me how I was, how my health was etc. That was Bala. In spite of his own state of being
paralysed below the waist, he always inquired about others’ health. During the conversation, he did say that he was hospitalised but he was more interested in his pending court case on 24 June? I as usual told him, “Balan, don’t worry. We will fight it out.” I assured him that I will come to court, The conversation ended with the note that we will meet up in court. That get together is not going to happen now. At his funeral yesterday, in the midst of his two sisters crying hyterically, I pondered his rare phone call and reflected on his life. His wish unfulfilled and so did our support system.
A tough life
Balan Perumal was born on 28 August 1979. This August he would be 40. He married early when he was just 20 but the marriage only lasted two years and he was separated from his wife in 2001. He had a son who went with his mum and they had no contact since.
In 2013, his eldest sister, Devi’s husband was kidnapped and she never saw him again. So Balan took care of her and her child. His other sister Thanam also lost her husband and became a widow with three children. Balan also took them under his shelter. They all stayed in Balan’s house which he bought in 2005 by obtaining a loan from BSN for RM 115,000. The house address was No.6323, Jalan 5/10. Taman Seremban Jaya, Seremban. His life story after this revolved around how he tried to save this house, his only house.
Accident changes Everything
Three years ago on a fateful day, 22-6-2015, tragedy struck. Balan was involved in a serious Industrial accident at his work place. He fell and hit a hard iron bar while doing some dismantling job. He had severe injuries to his backbone as his spinal nerves in T4 and T5 snapped resulting in him becoming paralyzed below the waist. He was hospitalized for almost 9 months with the possibility of death hanging over him. He survived and since then, he has been confined to a wheel-chair and declared a Disabled person by the Seremban Welfare Department.
Suddenly the sole bread winner in the house supporting two sisters and their children was immobile. The tragedy and his suffering did not end there. Bank Simpanan Nasional; a GLC gave the next blow by auctioning his house. That is how PSM came into the picture.
BSN Housing Insurance Farce
On 22 October 2015, while Balan was still in Hospital he received a legal letter from BSN stating that he had defaulted payments for some months. Records will show that Balan in fact made his last payment to the Bank on 11 June 2015, just ten days before his critical accident.
For twelve years since buying the house, Balan had been servicing the loan diligently without any unpaid dues. It was only after his accident, he could not pay. Balan’s sister met En.Khairul a BSN officer and told him about Balan’s condition as well as their inability to pay since Balan was the sole bread winner. Khairul also met Balan’s Doctor who told the banker his health condition. Khairul then advised them to make an insurance claim and asked for some documents. Insurance policy called MRTA is specifically for this purpose and is used when the borrower dies or has serious health problems.
The following month, the sister already submitted whatever documents they required but the full medical report was not ready because Balan was still hospitalized and a full report could only be given later.
The insurance company rejected the claim on the ground that the medical report was incomplete. But Neither Balan nor his sisters were notified of this development. On 6 January 2016, they were shocked to get a letter stating the house was going on auction. His sister pleaded with the Bank but they did not have any empathy or compassion. Why the hurry to auction his house? A letter from BSN in June 2016 revealed that he had defaulted for 9 months from July 2015 till February 2016. This was clearly due to his accident which paralyzed and disabled him since June 2015. This also indicated that before the accident, he was a prompt payer.
Shouldn’t BSN, being a GLC show some empathy here? NO. The following month, on 16 February, Balan’s house was auctioned in Seremban high court for RM 150,000. Balan was still in his hospital bed, paralyzed below the waist unable to do anything.
On 4 March, Balan was discharged and It was at this point that PSM’s assistance was sought. Looking at his condition and the issue, PSM comrades were ready to assist. Initially we thought that it was a straight forward matter. We also thought BSN being a GLC would be easier to handle compared to a private bank. We also thought there was some misunderstanding and when the bank knew his true condition, the house could be saved.
Tina, PSM Seremban activist then held several meetings with the Bank to understand why his house was auctioned off in such a hurry in spite of his sister informing the Bank. What angered him most was when he was told that in a meeting in April that Balan could still appeal his insurance claim after 120 days in June. What a mockery? How could he appeal when his house had already been auctioned off? Isn’t the role of the insurance to save his house from being auctioned?
After failing to get any solution, on 10 May 2016, we held a protest at the Bank Simpanan Nasional’s HQ in Jalan Ampang and handed a memorandum addressed to CEO En Adinan Bin Maning. The memorandum was received by Mr Arida Ariffin’s -Vice President Corporate Affairs. At the meeting at the BSN HQ, officials were also puzzled how come the house was auctioned and agreed to stop all transactions. They also assured us that this might be all a big misunderstanding and they would do everything they could to resolve the problem.
Sadly after that, BSN gave us the cold shoulder and refused to entertain our calls and emails. Then on 8 June, we received a letter from BSN Seremban stating that they wanted to proceed with the auction and no reason was given.
We tried other things like sending individual letters to all BSN Directors. We had still some hope that if one of them actually read Balan’s plight, they would intervene. Sadly except for one who said that he has resigned the Board, the rest didn’t respond. We also put a private Caveat on the land.
When one has a complaint against a Bank then there is a mechanism whereby we can complain to Bank Negara which is the Central Bank governing other Banks. So that was our next destination
Bank Negara – we don’t have power
In early Mei 2016, we submitted a letter addressed to the Governor of Bank Negara and we called for an investigation because there are syndicates trying to buy over properties and they use all means and influence. In this case we were baffled because in spite of all our intervention, BSN still wanted to proceed. On 15 Jun 2016, we again wrote another letter. Nothing moved.
So we used our most well-known weapon when letters don’t get a response – a demonstration. So along with Balan in the wheelchair, we organised a protest outside Bank Negara on 26 October 2016. On the same day, a meeting was organised with some high ranking Bank Negara officers. They were very considerate and they also indicated something was wrong. They then said that they will arrange a meeting summoning BSN. This raised our hopes that the Central Bank will act.
On three occasion in the next two months, Bank Negara called us to a set up a meeting with BSN but each time, the meeting got called off. There were reasons given such as BSN could not make it and once it was said that they couldn’t get a Senior Officer in Bank Negara to chair the meeting. We were getting impatient with the excuses and finally we were told that the all powerful Central Bank had no power and jurisdiction over BSN.
SUHAKAM – Don’t raise the issue of homeless
Having had no success, we then tried to raise the issue with SUHAKAM. It was our conviction that Balan was a victim and this was a corporate violation by BSN. On 9 September, we submitted a memorandum to the Human Rights Commission . The title of our memorandum to Suhakam was Selamatkan Keluarga OKU Sebelum Menjadi Mangsa Gelandangan. Save disabled family from homelessness.
We also cited Article 25 of the Universal Declaration of the Human Rights (UDHR) which SUHAKAM subscribed to. Everyone has the right to adequate living standards for the health and well-being of himself and his family, including the necessary food, clothing, housing and medical care and social services and the right to protection in the event of unemployment, ill-health, disability, widowhood, age and others lack life in conditions beyond its control.
In March 2017, we got a call from SUHAKAM where SUHAKAM agreed to conduct a mediation process between the parties. We were thrilled because just before that, the new owner of Balan’s house was also trying to evict Balan. We were optimistic, if they were genuine buyers, then they will let go of the house after seeing Balan’s condition.
SUHAKAM Commissioner conducted 2 mediation meetings and the second on 9 May 2017 ended abruptly when the Commissioner, unhappy that both parties could not compromise, walked out.
The SUHAKAM Commissioner was also angry with me when I raised the question of making a person homeless. He told us to refrain from saying that. The biggest flaw in the SUHAKAM process was they missed the fundamental issue. In any human rights violation, there is always a violator and a victim. In this case, there can be two victims – Balan and the house buyer. The violator can only be BSN which auctioned Balan’s house when the insurance claim option was not exhausted yet. Sadly, the SUHAKAM Commissioner refused to take BSN to task and kept asking Balan or the new Buyer to let go of the house.
The new buyer claimed they needed the house because their mother was attached to the house and keept talking about it. Balan on the other hand definitely had more attachment because it was his only house and he had stayed there for more than a decade.
Ongoing Court Battles
Meanwhile as we were battling all this, another battle was ongoing in the courts. Activist Lawyer Kartigesan took up this case probono. Kartigesan is with the Hindraf as well as the Human Rights Committee in Negeri Sembilan bar. On September 2016, BSN filed a suit to cancel our caveat filed in June 2016. On 16 February 2017, BSN failed to lift our caveat. On 30 May 2017, the house buyer then made another attempt to cancel our caveat. On 11 August, the house owner was successful in her attempt.
Both parties BSN as well as Balan both filed an appeal. Then BSN cleverly withdrew from the appeal and wanted the battle to be between Balan and the new House owner.
On May 2018 last year, Balan’s lawyer Kartik filed a new suit against BSN and the new owner. The case was postponed several times and finally the Judge pushed for mediation on 27 September 2018.
Mediation then went on. The matter finally revolved around money. The new owner wanted a huge sum much higher than the price of the house. BSN was willing to pay an amount which was much less and Balan was caught because he was the only one who needed a house but did not have the huge amount of money they were all talking about.
In hindsight if Balan had died now, then MRTA will cover the entire cost and his sisters can live in the house. Finally the next court date is June 24 2019, On this date, Balan will not be present and the court will miss his wheelchair. It is unclear if the other parties will rejoice at this new development or will let Balan’s soul Rest In Peace.
Breakdown of Support System
When we look back, Balan had an Industrial accident and yet there was not much support. MRTA failed him and Malaysian GLC bank showed they were no better than private Banks. What happened to Corporate Social Responsibility? Bank Negara – the Central Bank has no power while SUHAKAM has no passion to resolve the issue. Now the courts will decide on the dead man’s unfulfilled wish.
It was raining heavily when Balan’s body was at the Templer crematorium. The only silver lining on this gloomy day was when Balan’s son who is 19 now made a surprise appearance. Seeing the lifeless body of the father he had not seen for 18 years would have been hard for him. Tina got a call a few hours earlier from a family member who read about Balan in the net. We then told the funeral Undertakers to wait for his son. His son, now a big boy arrived in time to do the final rites. It was a reunion long overdue.
Will Balan’s family get back his house? That is the outstanding matter for us. His sisters believe that Balan’s soul will remain in the house because till the very end, that was his last battle.