Fighting for water rights during the Covid-19 pandemic: A struggle of a Somalian refugee against bullies.

“If the penalty for a crime is a fine, then that law only exists for the poor”, Rohit Tiwari. 

The call for help

Last Saturday, about 5.30pm, I received a call from an activist from Asylum Access Malaysia (AAM) (an NGO working on refugee rights), that a family of Somalian refugees located in Ampang was having trouble with a residence apartment’s Joint Management Board (JMB).

I took Danial Hakeem, a friend from Jaringan Pekerja Kontrak Kerajaan (JPKK), and we rushed to the scene to meet the JMB before it was closed, as it will be difficult to engage them over the weekend. As we feared, the office was closed but we managed to obtain the phone number of the JMB’s head staff. 

Senseless Fine and Inhumane Water Cut

On the 12th January 2021, the family of Mrs. Shanz (name changed for safety reasons), a Somalian single mother was handed a fine amounting RM4,200 by the residence’s JMB because her 11 y/old child had apparently left scratch marks on the lift’s protective canvas.  

Since the family was incapable of paying such a hefty amount, an appeal was subsequently made through the assistance of AAM. The appeal letter forwarded two requests: (i) a full waiver; or (ii) reducing the fine to RM500. 

In spite of being informed of the family’s financial vulnerability and of the alternatives provided, JMB only reduced the fine to a staggering amount of RM3700 with the option of four installments.  

AAM tried to renegotiate a fairer fine as the family is willing to pay with AAM’s financial aid, but JMB inhumanely decided to cut their water supply on 30th Jan 2021, claiming this procedure was permitted in the Strata Management Act 2013 (Act 757). 

This assertion is totally ridiculous because the law does not allow that! Water is a fundamental human right which cannot be withheld by any parties for any matter! (Refer to the article: https://www.nst.com.my/opinion/letters/2018/09/414218/joint-management-body-cant-cut-water-supply-defaulters). 

Moreover, the notice given by the JMB did not mention anything about water interruption if the fine is unpaid. The notice only stated that the fine will be added to the monthly bill and a daily penalty of RM50 will be charged if the family fails to pay within 7 days.  

After a phone conversation with the JMB, they dismissed the option of restoring the water supply until the fine is settled. Thus, countless phone calls were made to reach the local MPs & ADUNs for an intervention, while concerned individuals were relaying their support for the refugee by contacting the JMB.

Almost an hour later, we managed to speak to an officer working for the Ampang MP by the name of Mr. Fuadi Taib who became a liaison person between the involved parties. The JMB quickly revamped their approach and appeared friendly as a result of the mounting pressure upon them. They requested a meeting with us. However we declined to meet until the water supply was fully restored.  

Restoration, Water Cut and Lies

By 9.30pm on the same day, the water was restored!  

The meeting was then proposed in one of the following days. In the midst of coordinating the meeting between AAM, the JMB and the tenant, the JMB once again arbitrarily cut the water supply on Monday night (1st February 2021) around 10.30pm.  

This certainly shows the unprofessional and autocratic nature of those with power. Hence, communication was reestablished with the JMB head staff who claimed the water supply was never cut, while the family was deprived of water supply. At this juncture, we received the assistance of Ampang Jaya Councillor, Mr. Moganraj. The Councillor too made immediate calls to ensure the water was restored. 

The next day, (2nd February 2021), the AAM team and I went directly to the location to confirm the restoration and finally, the family received the water supply about 4.30pm. 

As the management had exhibited insincere traits in reaching a feasible and just solution, the family agreed to lodge a police report as the act of cutting water supply is purely inhumane, a violation of fundamental human rights and unlawful!  

Violation of Human Rights against the poor 

As mentioned earlier, the family fled to Malaysia from a war torn country looking for peace, shelter and food. This writing is not in any way condoning the act of vandalism, however this does not justify the JMB’s punitive measures. 

Though the single mother admitted the son’s mistake and agreed to pay RM500 for the repair, the board exerted power over the poor family. This is nothing but an act of intimidation and bullying. Especially, in the times of pandemic where families are stranded at home due to the Movement Control Order (MCO). Imagine the complications they had to endure without water.

What an irony that influential people  convicted of crimes are mostly roaming around while the poor have to live in fear and are deprived of fundamental rights as a mischievous tactic of milking money. 

Certainly the issue would not have blown out of proportion if the JMB or related parties took a humane approach by considering the circumstantial barriers preventing the single mother from settling the said amount. 

While financial incapability is a pressing matter, the traumatic experience both the mother and son underwent is equally disturbing. 

The co-tenants have condemned the family for causing troubles which may, if unsettled, cause an estranged relationship to develop between the child and mother. At least, considering the appeal and reducing the fine would have been a win-win situation for both parties. 

Moving forward; What is to be done?

Fighting for rights has never been easy, particularly, when existing human made rules and regulations are in favour of the rich and powerful.  This does not mean that the battle has to be left half-baked, out of fear of the authorities or the oppressor. The truth will transcend misjudged rules, regulations and laws. 

It is the duty of the masses to stand in solidarity with what is right rather than what appears to be convenient. This episode should remind the working class irrespective of their background or affinities, must unite to resist the various forms of discrimination. 

*At the time of writing, a tripartite-meeting with the JMB has been confirmed on Friday, the 5th of February.

Barathi Selvam,
Pemuda Sosialis,
Parti Sosialis Malaysia

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